Older lung cancer patients less likely to access specialist nursing care

London South Bank University finds lung cancer patients aged over 75 have less access to specialist nurses than younger patients

Lung cancer patients over the age of 75 are significantly less likely to be seen by a specialist nurse, according to new research.

The study by London South Bank University’s School of Health and Social Care, published in the journal Lung Cancer, looked at the records of 128,124 lung cancer patients in England over a four year period. Researchers also expose the dearth of specialist nurses in this field.

Wide variations in access to lung cancer specialist nurses were found, indicating a potential unmet need for lung cancer specialist nurses.

Although lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK, only 11% of cancer nurse specialists in England focus on lung cancer.

Researchers found a clear association between patient age and likelihood of receiving an assessment by a specialist nurse; those over the age of 75 were significantly less likely to be assessed than those aged 65 and under. This is in spite of National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines calling for direct access to specialist nurses for every person diagnosed with the disease.

It also found that patients were twice as likely to have been assessed in trusts where the majority of work is done by band 8 nurses, compared to bands 6 and 7. And those referred by an emergency route were 57% less likely to receive an assessment, compared to those referred by a GP.

Alison Leary, who led the study, commented: ‘It may be of concern that there is potential unmet need for specialist nurse assessment among some patients. To meet the needs of all people with lung cancer it is therefore vital to expand the current lung cancer specialist nurse workforce, and to ensure that experienced professionals are retained as an integral part of patient care teams.’

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