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Cancer survival: study cites nurse vacancies as factor in UK’s comparatively low rates

RCN says figures show the ‘distressing consequences’ of failure to invest in staff

RCN says figures show the ‘distressing consequences’ of failure to invest in staff


Picture: Alamy

The UK has the lowest cancer survival rates among seven high-income countries – and nurse vacancies are a contributing factor, researchers have said.

The study, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, examined 3.7 million cases of cancer between 1995 and 2014 in seven high-income countries with universal healthcare (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and the UK).

Improvement in survival rates – but still lagging behind other countries

The data covers seven cancers - oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung and ovary – and shows that cancer survival one year after diagnosis, and at the five-year mark, improved across all seven types in the UK over the period studied. 

However, the UK has still not caught up with the survival rates of the other countries, and sits at the bottom of the league table for five out of the seven cancers.

Call for more specialist cancer nurses

RCN professional lead for research and innovation Ann McMahon said: ‘The authors of this study say staff shortages are partly to blame.

‘A recent analysis by the RCN revealed more than 1,400 cancer nurse vacancies in England alone in the six months to September 2018 – an increase of 16% on the previous year.

‘Specialist cancer nurses play a vital role in providing treatments such as chemotherapy. This new study shows the distressing consequences of failure to invest in this crucial workforce.’

Commenting on the findings, charity Cancer Research UK's director of early diagnosis Sara Hiom said: ‘We have been calling for staff shortages to be addressed because, quite simply, it will give people a better chance of surviving their cancer.’

The government responded to the data by pointing to other figures that show one-year survival rates in England, for all types of cancer, were at record levels.

In England, one-year survival has increased from 62% in 2001 to 72.8% in 2016.

Government highlights cancer strategy and investment

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Through our NHS Long Term Plan, we will detect more cancers at an earlier stage, saving an estimated 55,000 lives a year.

‘Alongside this, the record £33.9 billion extra a year [by 2023/24] that we’re investing in our NHS will help support the health service in recruiting the staff it needs for the future.’


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