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COVID-19 backlog could overwhelm workforce, warns cancer charity

Government ‘must address staffing crisis now’ to ensure access to cancer nurse specialists

Government must address staffing crisis now to ensure patient access to cancer nurse specialists

A crisis in access to cancer nurse specialists (CNSs) must be addressed amid a huge backlog of undiagnosed cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a charity said.

Breast Cancer Now said pressures on CNSs and diagnostic and imaging staff existed even before the pandemic and urged government to invest more in the healthcare workforce.

Women avoiding checks and not bothering GPs

The charity estimates a backlog of 11,000 undiagnosed breast cancer cases, based on the number of people starting their first treatment between March and December 2020, compared with the same

Government ‘must address staffing crisis now’ to ensure patient access to cancer nurse specialists

As well as CNSs, there is a shortage of cancer diagnostic and imaging staff Picture: PA

A crisis in access to cancer nurse specialists (CNSs) must be addressed amid a huge backlog of undiagnosed cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a charity said.

Breast Cancer Now said pressures on CNSs and diagnostic and imaging staff existed even before the pandemic and urged government to invest more in the healthcare workforce.

Women avoiding checks and not ‘bothering’ GPs

The charity estimates a backlog of 11,000 undiagnosed breast cancer cases, based on the number of people starting their first treatment between March and December 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Breast Cancer Now senior CNS Jane Murphy said that women are worried about attending medical appointments due to COVID-19 and do not want to bother their GP with concerns.

‘The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed the better the chances of treatment being successful, which makes it vital that women continue to check their breasts regularly and get any new or unusual changes checked with the GP, and that they continue to attend breast screening appointments,’ she said.

Shortage of staff in cancer care disciplines

In its October 2020 Press Play report, Breast Cancer Now highlighted how access to CNSs plays a crucial role in patients’ treatment, but noted that workforce pressures meant that nurses did not have time to spend with patients with secondary breast cancer.

‘Over the coming years the number of women coming forward could overwhelm our already overstretched workforce’

Baroness Morgan, Breast Cancer Now

NHS data show there were 36,655 full-time-equivalent (FTE) nursing vacancies in England’s NHS as of September 2020.

The charity is also concerned about vacancies in the diagnostic and imaging workforce, saying that a quarter of UK NHS trusts and health boards have vacant breast radiologist roles and that retirements will only exacerbate the shortage in the future.

Investing in cancer care workforce to save lives

Breast Cancer Now chief executive Baroness Morgan said: ‘The tragic cost of missing breast cancer diagnoses is that, in the worst cases, women could die from the disease.

‘Over the coming years the number of women coming forward could overwhelm our already overstretched workforce. UK governments must invest in and tackle the crisis facing the cancer workforce.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said that cancer diagnosis and treatment has remained a top priority throughout the pandemic.

They said: ‘We are working closely with NHS England and Improvement, Public Health England and Health Education England to ensure cancer services have the staffing they need and can remain resilient into the future, including through an additional £1.3 billion in funding to support elective recovery.’


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