Lack of breast cancer nurses is putting pressure on workloads, says charity

Breast Cancer Care says the gap between the numbers of people diagnosed with breast cancer and breast cancer nurses is widening 

The widening gap between the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer and breast cancer nurses is putting pressure on workloads that will harm patient care, a charity has warned.

Newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer in England have increased by 18%, from 38,153 in 2003 to 44,831 in 2013, according to an analysis by Breast Cancer Care.  Yet the number of specialist breast cancer nurses in England has remained the same at 434 since records began in 2007.

Nurses are essential in providing patients with medical, practical and emotional care, Breast Cancer Care said, and the widening gap between patient and nurse numbers ‘will impact negatively on quality of care’.

The charity has also warned that although more people are surviving breast cancer diagnoses, many patients face the ‘debilitating side-effects of the disease and treatment’ which further intensifies clinical nurse specialist (CNS) workloads.

Jane Murphy, a specialist breast cancer nurse who works for the charity, said: ‘Patients still want to access their CNS after treatment, whether it is about ongoing effects of treatment, a fear of recurrence or if they feel they have a new symptom.

‘Lots of patients we speak to feel the breast cancer nurse is invaluable, but they feel it can be difficult to get hold of them or they are worried about disturbing them.’

RCN cancer and breast care forum chair Maria Noblet said the situation has not improved since the college said CNS numbers were dwindling in 2003.

She added: ‘Alongside this, the recent Macmillan CNS survey identified that many of the CNS population is ageing, with many due to retire in the next few years and no plan to develop our workforce to fill the huge gap they will leave.’

Breast Cancer Care said it wants NHS England to meet a recommendation of the national cancer strategy published in September, that every patient should have access to a specialist nurse.

A NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Decisions on numbers of posts available for CNSs are the responsibility of individual hospitals, and overall hospital nurse staffing levels have been rising.

‘The NHS is working with partners such as Health Education England to plan for future workforce needs, and to implement the cancer strategy.’  

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