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Nurses could prove pivotal in solving cancer waiting times crisis

More than 100,000 people in England are experiencing drawn out 'stress and uncertainty' over cancer referrals, figures from the House of Commons Library reveal.
Cancer diagnosis

Specialist cancer nurse-led clinics could help free up capacity in the NHS as cancer referrals fail waiting time targets, says the RCN.

New figures show 102,697 people in England did not see a consultant within the expected 14 days after being urgently referred by their GP during 2016.

Further to this, 25,153 people had to wait more than 62 days the target time to start their treatment for a new cancer shows House of Commons Library data obtained by The Guardian.

'Worst fears dragged out'

RCN cancer and breast care nursing forum professional adviser Ann McMahon said: 'These targets exist for a reason if cancers are caught early, survival rates improve.

'Behind every single one of these figures is a family having their worst fears dragged out for even longer.

'Unless you have been through it, it is impossible to

Specialist cancer nurse-led clinics could help free up capacity in the NHS as cancer referrals fail waiting time targets, says the RCN.

New figures show 102,697 people in England did not see a consultant within the expected 14 days after being urgently referred by their GP during 2016.

Further to this, 25,153 people had to wait more than 62 days – the target time – to start their treatment for a new cancer shows House of Commons Library data obtained by The Guardian.

'Worst fears dragged out'

RCN cancer and breast care nursing forum professional adviser Ann McMahon said: 'These targets exist for a reason – if cancers are caught early, survival rates improve.

'Behind every single one of these figures is a family having their worst fears dragged out for even longer.

'Unless you have been through it, it is impossible to imagine the stress and uncertainty of waiting for treatment – treatment you know could be the only chance for you or a loved one.

'We are seeing more and more referrals, which is to be welcomed, but investment in cancer services has not been keeping pace.'

Nurses' pivotal role

Cancer diagnosis
102,697 people in England did not see a consultant within the expected 14 days after being
urgently referred by their GP during 2016. Picture: iStock

The House of Commons research shows that 25 out of 157 NHS or NHS-contracted providers failed to meet the required 93% target for patients urgently referred by their GP to see a specialist within 14 days.

More than half of providers (86) missed the 85% benchmark of 62 days to treatment for a primary cancer.

Dr McMahon added: 'Specialist cancer nurses have a pivotal role to play.

'As well as supporting patients, their families, and other healthcare practitioners, we have compelling evidence that specialist nurse-led and designed outpatient clinics help to free up capacity, which could help to bring down these waiting lists.'

'We need a way forward'

Macmillan Cancer Support director of policy, public affairs and campaigns Moira Fraser said: 'Extended waits to start treatment can have a serious impact on someone’s mental well-being and we are concerned may ultimately harm someone’s long-term health outcomes.

'Last month in its update to the Five Year Forward View, NHS England committed to fixing delays to cancer waiting times.

'We know this is a complicated challenge and NHS staff are working hard.

'However, we need a way forward to make this happen – cancer patients are depending on it.'

Macmillan Cancer Support warned in February of a huge shortage of clinical nurse specialists by 2030, while in January it was revealed almost half of lung cancer patients do not see a specialist nurse despite the National Lung Cancer Audit recommending 90% of patients should.


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