Nurse shortage forces London trust to close chemotherapy unit earlier than planned

Organisation’s chief nurse says finding specialist staff is ‘not getting any easier’

Organisation’s chief nurse says finding specialist staff is ‘not getting any easier’

King George Hospital in Ilford. Picture: Alamy

A shortage of specialist cancer nurses means one of England’s biggest NHS trusts has been forced to accelerate plans to close one of its chemotherapy units.

From this week, chemotherapy will no longer be delivered at the Cedar Centre at King George Hospital, London, which treated more than 500 patients a year.

Change of location

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, had planned to centralise its chemotherapy services at its Romford site in 2020 and stop providing chemotherapy from the Cedar Centre in Ilford.

But four specialist nurses at the trust have left and two others are on maternity leave, meaning the specialist nursing team is down from 19 to 13, although the trust says it is working hard to recruit into the vacant roles.

The staff departures have brought the organisation’s plans forward and, from this week, patients undergoing chemotherapy will be sent to Queen’s Hospital in nearby Romford.

Recruitment difficulties

The trust’s chief nurse Kathryn Halford said: ‘Like other trusts across the country, we’ve found that recruiting specialist chemotherapy nurses is not getting any easier.

‘We have wanted for some time to focus our chemotherapy services at our specialist facilities at Queen’s Hospital, so that we can open additional facilities at King George Hospital in the form of a health and well-being centre. 

‘In the light of particular recent challenges, we took the decision to bring that move forward.’

Ms Halford added that the trust was working closely with the 41 patients who are having their treatment moved, so that the impact of the change can be minimised.

‘Hugely concerning’

Macmillan Cancer Support director of policy Moira Fraser-Pearce said: ‘It is hugely concerning if a hospital is not able to recruit enough cancer nurse specialists to feel it can safely provide patients with the treatment they need.

‘We hope that the long-term plan for the NHS will help to ensure there are enough nurses and doctors, equipped with the right skills to deliver the first-class care that people living with cancer deserve.’

RCN England director Tom Sandford said the closure of a specialist unit was the ‘starkest evidence yet’ of the impact of the nurse staffing crisis on patient care.

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