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Cancer care: resilience is vital for nurses and patients now and post-COVID-19

When the pandemic subsides, oncology nurses will need to stay strong to support patients and each other in a fragile world

When the pandemic subsides, oncology nurses will need to stay strong to support patients and each other in a fragile world

Nurses have long had to manage difficult situations where patients have had surgery postponed or had to wait longer for treatments than they would like. But we have never had a situation like this. The uncertainty and change for staff and patients is hard to quantify, let alone assimilate.

Screening has not been consistently available, we are changing and postponing treatments and we are having to reassure patients when they perceive that we are saving others lives over theirs. And in the midst of it all we are beyond exhausted with the sheer relentlessness of need and the changing goalposts and expectations.

Oncology departments

When the pandemic subsides, oncology nurses will need to stay strong to support patients and each other in a fragile world

Nurses have had to manage difficult situations where patients have had surgery postponed or had to wait longer for treatments
Picture: iStock

Nurses have long had to manage difficult situations where patients have had surgery postponed or had to wait longer for treatments than they would like. But we have never had a situation like this. The uncertainty and change for staff and patients is hard to quantify, let alone assimilate.

Screening has not been consistently available, we are changing and postponing treatments and we are having to reassure patients when they perceive that we are saving others’ lives over theirs. And in the midst of it all we are beyond exhausted with the sheer relentlessness of need and the changing goalposts and expectations.

Oncology departments have changed so much over the past 12 months, affecting how we can deliver care. We are working with minimal staff, family and friends are not always able to be present, and infection control measures make communication more challenging.

Be vigilant and prepared for what lies ahead as well as what is happening now

Our patients need more care not less, with the fear of COVID-19 heightening their anxieties still further and the disruption to services requiring reassurance as well as explanation. Cancer nursing in these circumstances cannot and should not be hurried.

But as oncology nurses we must be vigilant and prepared for what lies ahead as well as what we are dealing with now. Once this pandemic passes, which in time it will, our workload will not diminish. We will still be picking up the pieces – both physical and emotional – to ensure we cater for our patients and their families for years to come.

Deficiencies in the size of the workforce have been cruelly exposed during this past year. Regardless of the plans that may be in place to bolster the NHS workforce, we know that skilled staff take years to educate and develop. There is no quick fix.

Nurses are the glue that holds the NHS together

And into this future world we will carry with us a great sadness – individually and collectively – at what we have witnessed and experienced during this past year, in the sphere of COVID-19 and also in oncology nursing. The impact of the pandemic on cancer services and those who work within them has been enormous.

Nurses are invariably the glue that holds the NHS together. We’ve stepped up and stayed strong when needed, as we always do. It is our richness of experience and our humanity that means that while we are the glue we are also the compassion that makes a huge difference in how our patients and our colleagues feel. But it comes at a cost.

We need to look after ourselves and each other. We need to be resilient to continue to be there physically and mentally for those patients who have weathered this storm with us.

It will be crucial that we are there for our patients, offering them support when needed, as the pandemic subsides. We will need to draw on our own courage and strength, because we will be an important reference point for them as well as a source of wisdom in a fragile world.


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