Editorial

Healthcare workers cannot be the simple solution to nursing shortages

You don’t have to be a nurse to provide care and support for people with cancer. In an arrangement that largely works well, most people with cancer live at home ably assisted by family and friends with low level input from healthcare professionals.

However, there are times when more informed, knowledgeable and expert care is needed and the individual enters the domain of the healthcare professional.


Richard Henry. Picture: Barney Newman

Given the volume of people with cancer that are expected to access support and care over the next few years, there is a real danger that current services will be unable to meet demand. In response, there are proposals to develop a range of new healthcare worker roles that are designed to support people with non-complex needs as they engage more fully with the healthcare system. This means that the point of contact for many people with cancer may not be a nurse.

Among other things, the new healthcare workers will help individuals take control of their own care by providing emotional and practical support, signposting to a range of services and building relationships across organisations.

'Healthcare workers may have a role in the care of those with cancer, but they shouldn’t be regarded as a simple solution to nursing shortages'

The term ‘non-complex needs’ interests me. The complexity of needs can only be reliably ascertained by assessment. Conducting person centred holistic assessments that are meaningful and consistent with the individual’s perception of their needs is a highly-skilled undertaking.

This depends on the creation of an atmosphere of trust and openness, an ability to spot and follow up cues and knowledge of cancer and its treatment. Without this calibre of nursing input there is a real danger that assessment becomes a mere checklist of issues and problems. Healthcare workers may have a role in the care of those with cancer, but they shouldn’t be regarded as a simple solution to nursing shortages.


Richard Henry is a lecturer in cancer nursing at Queen's University Belfast and former president of the UK Oncology Nursing Society (UKONS)  

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