Cancer nurse workforce in Wales risks becoming unsustainable, warns charity

Almost three quarters of breast cancer nurses will approach retirement in next decade
Wales breast cancer workforce

Almost three quarters of breast cancer nurses in Wales will approach retirement in next decade

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Almost three quarters of specialist breast cancer nurses in Wales are aged 50 or more – and many could retire in the next decade, a charity warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support said its latest census found 74% of breast cancer nurses, where age was reported, are at least 50 years old, leading to concerns that the cancer nursing workforce in Wales is in danger of becoming unsustainable.

The research also reveals the number of whole-time-equivalent breast cancer nursing posts has fallen by 14% since the last census in 2014, adding to workforce pressures.

Vacancy rates

The Cancer Workforce in Wales census reveals vacancy rates among specialist cancer nurses have increased to 4.4 vacancies per 100 filled roles. This is above the overall UK rate of 3.2 vacancies per 100 filled roles in health and social care.

Macmillan Wales said the figures were particularly worrying because of the growing number of people with cancer.

More positively, the census also shows the number of specialist cancer nurse roles has gone up by more than a third (36%) since 2014.

Younger overall workforce

It also shows a younger overall workforce is emerging, with the percentage of those aged 50 or over dropping from 53% in 2014 to 42% in 2017. This figure is still higher than that for the cancer nursing workforce in England.

Macmillan’s head of services in Wales Richard Pugh said: ‘Our census highlights areas of concern including varied numbers of cancer nurses per new cancer diagnosis and high vacancy rates.

‘We want the Welsh Government, health boards, specialist cancer treatment centre Velindre and the newly formed Health Education and Improvement Wales, to analyse the census results to inform their plans and address urgently the clear challenges it highlights.

‘That way we can ensure Wales has a skilled, sustainable cancer care workforce to support our growing number of people living with cancer and their often complex needs.’

Lack of care

Meanwhile, Breast Cancer Care charity has called on the government to tackle a ‘totally unacceptable’ lack of care for women with breast cancer.

The charity said that, in its survey of almost 3,000 women with breast cancer, 41% did not get the professional support they needed to cope with the long-term effects of the disease.

Breast Cancer Care said it found that 51% of providers do not give patients a specific support appointment after the end of treatment and is calling on public health minister Steve Brine to commit to ensuring women have access to breast cancer-specific support following treatment. 

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