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Cancer nursing workforce needs to be adaptable, says Marsden chief nurse

The new chief nurse at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has placed emphasis on an agile workforce to deal with the rapidly changes to cancer care.
Eamonn Sullivan

An 'agile' cancer nursing workforce is needed to keep up with the rapid advances in treatment and improved survival rates, according to the new chief nurse at one of the world's leading cancer hospitals

Speaking exclusively to Nursing Standard, Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust chief nurse Eamonn Sullivan said: 'Cancer is now a long-term condition. It has utterly changed in the past ten years, it's a challenge. What we are seeing in the Marsden is that technology and survivorship is advancing so quickly that to do the ten year workforce plan is actually quite a challenge.'

A recent Macmillan Cancer Support report identified

An 'agile' cancer nursing workforce is needed to keep up with the rapid advances in treatment and improved survival rates, according to the new chief nurse at one of the world's leading cancer hospitals

Eamonn Sullivan
Eamonn Sullivan: 'I'm interested in ward sister leadership. We have got fantastic ward
sisters here, so how can we empower them even more?'

Speaking exclusively to Nursing Standard, Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust chief nurse Eamonn Sullivan said: 'Cancer is now a long-term condition. It has utterly changed in the past ten years, it's a challenge. What we are seeing in the Marsden is that technology and survivorship is advancing so quickly that to do the ten year workforce plan is actually quite a challenge.'

A recent Macmillan Cancer Support report identified the importance of clinical nurse specialists in outcomes for patients with cancer, but also warned of a shortfall of 7,000 clinical nurse specialists by 2030.

'Critical role'

Mr Sullivan, a major in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, who took up his new post in January, said he recognised the 'critical role', adding: 'It's about early succession planning.

'So band 5, band 6 nurses, spotting them early and giving them career paths. Picking and observing the talent early on and nurturing that talent.'

Mr Sullivan heads up a workforce of 1,131 registered nurses, 260 healthcare assistants and 369 allied health professionals at the trust.

He said it was a privilege to become chief nurse, but was under no illusion there would be challenges, admitting the Marsden was not immune to the problems facing the rest of London – chiefly the 'major concern' over 10,000 nursing vacancies.

Training and proficiency

'We have got a young, mobile workforce who can travel and have multiple job offers. When I qualified nearly 30 years ago, four people out of 40 got jobs,' he said.

He praised the Capital Nurse initiative, with its ambition to create a passport to allow London nurses to transfer between wards and hospitals without requiring retraining on things they are already proficient at.

Mr Sullivan, who first qualified in 1993, was officer commanding of intensive care units during conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Talking about his immediate plans for the Marsden, he said: 'It's important to spend as much time as I can in clinical practice, getting to know the ward sisters, getting to know the matrons, the clinical staff, what it's like to be a staff member here, what it's like to be a patient.'

'I'm interested in ward sister leadership. We have got fantastic ward sisters here, so how can we empower them even more?'


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