The invaluable support you can offer your colleagues overseas

Consultant editor Carole Farrell, on how giving support to colleagues overseas can boost morale and play a part in rolling-out better patient care

After more than 30 years’ experience as an oncology nurse I am not usually shocked by what I see and hear and have witnessed many things over the years that promote cancer nursing and patient care.

More people are now cured from cancer, or living with and beyond it. The range of systemic treatments has increased, including targeted biological agents/immunotherapies, alongside strategies for symptom management and supportive care.

However, this contrasts sharply with inequalities in other countries.

Improving care

I was delighted to host a three-month educational placement for a senior nurse from Zimbabwe. Oncology nursing is a new speciality for nurses in Zimbabwe, and Perpetua is keen to educate other nurses to improve care for people with cancer.

However, there are tremendous challenges and the situation for many people is shocking. Resources are limited, which compromises treatment efficacy and patient care. This is compounded by poverty, since people must pay for medical consultations, investigations and treatment, including all medications for cancer. Consequently, many people present with advanced cancer, and often cannot afford treatment.

In Zimbabwe, it is also rare for people to complete a full course of chemotherapy, given the cost. Nurses work concurrently across radiotherapy and chemotherapy departments, and the lack of continuity and no ‘booking-in’ system mean people queue for hours throughout the day, and will only be seen, have investigations, or treatment if they can pay upfront.

Effective support

The same rules apply to people who develop neutropenic sepsis, which shocked me the most. People must pay before bloods can be taken and antibiotics given, which often results in delays of up to 24 hours. This is in stark contrast to the UK where most people receive antibiotics within one hour of arrival to emergency departments, because of mandatory targets.

As individual nurses, it’s difficult to know quite how we can effectively support our colleagues overseas but, if you and your teams are in a position to provide educational placements at least, I know Perpetua and her peers would find it invaluable.

Carole Farrell, Consultant editor, for Cancer Nursing Practice

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