Lung cancer specialist nurses ‘overwhelmed’ by caseloadsDan Kamashu
Lung cancer specialist nurses ‘overwhelmed’ by caseloads.
Specialist lung cancer nursing services are being overwhelmed by an unsustainable caseload that is putting patient care at risk, according to a new report.
The report from Lung Cancer Nursing UK features a snapshot survey which found nearly half – 47% – of lung cancer nurse specialists who took part care for more than 200 patients at any one time.
More than three quarters – 77% – said they felt there were simply not enough nurses to meet national guidelines.
Guidance states that lung cancer nurse specialists should look after no more than 80 new patients per year on top of their existing caseload.
The findings – due to be launched at an event in parliament today – paint a worrying picture of the pressures on specialist nurses due to staffing shortages and other issues.
“I feel that more and more we are firefighting rather than proactively caring for our patients,” said one nurse who responded to the survey.
Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate of all types of cancer in the UK and is the third most common cancer, accounting for 13% of all new cancer cases.
Specialist nurses play a vital role in supporting people with lung cancer through treatment and research has shown the care they provide helps improve life expectancy.
But Lung Cancer Nursing UK’s report suggests the workforce is struggling to meet current demand and raises serious concerns about future capacity.
Nearly half – 47% – of those who responded had more than 10 years’ experience in the field with most working at band 7 or above.
Meanwhile, only 36% said they had the necessary time and resources to provide the best care for patients all or most of the time.
“I love my role – but there is never enough time or resources,” said one survey respondent.
The report found workload pressures were not only making it difficult for specialist nurses to carry out their day-to-day tasks but also had an impact on retention.
It also highlighted the fact numbers of nurse trainees wanting to pursue a career in the profession had dropped in recent years, in part due to declining numbers of nurses from the EU.
While four out of five lung cancer nurse specialists felt their role and work was valued by senior colleagues, this did not appear to be reflected in wider recruitment or workforce strategies.
Two thirds – 66% – of nurses who took part in the survey said they did not think their hospital was looking to protect or expand the position and 78% did not believe their employer was meeting recommended recruitment standards.
“This undermines confidence that existing workforce pressures will be adequately addressed,” said the report.
It also found many nurses struggled to access crucial professional development (CPD) with just 38% able take the recommended five or more CPD days.
Half – 50% – reported that four days or less was not enough time to fully develop the skills they needed to do their job.
The findings show most – 87% – of lung cancer nurse specialists would like to see their role as a protected professional title with a tailored training programme.
Jackie Fenemore, lung cancer nurse clinician and chair of Lung Cancer Nursing UK, said it was vital the work of lung cancer nurse specialists was recognised and valued with appropriate training and resources in place.
“This isn’t always the case and we’re trying to provide the best possible care to patients and protect our profession,” she said.
“Specialist nurses play a critical role in caring for lung cancer patients and this research shows that we have a highly skilled and confident workforce tackling increased workloads, with the challenge of a growing patient population,” she added.
She said the forthcoming final version of the NHS People Plan was an opportunity to address some of these issues and tackling shortages of lung cancer nurse specialists should be an urgent priority.
The report said NHS England should ensure current lung cancer nurse specialist numbers were in line with guidance set out in the National Optimal Lung Cancer Pathway and said the body should support trusts to devise recruitment plans.
The report also called on NHS England and the Royal College of Nursing to explore the idea of making lung cancer nurse specialist a protected professional title with specialist training.
Two thirds – 66% – said they had seen an increase of 20% or more in the number of patients they cared for over the past four years.
Alison Leary, professor of healthcare modelling at London South Bank University and Lung Cancer Nursing UK trustee, said lung cancer specialist nurses provided vital physical and psychological care.
“They also provide a safety net, helping people navigate the healthcare system at a very difficult time in their lives,” said Professor Leary who is also a member of the Nursing Times editorial advisory board.
“Recent research also shows that access to a lung cancer clinical nurse specialist means patients have better outcomes including better access to treatment,” she added.
Ex-England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss, whose wife Ruth died after contracting a rare form of lung cancer, said nursing care had made a huge difference to his family.
“My family’s recent experience with lung cancer and losing my wife, showed us just how important it is that patients and their families can be supported throughout the diagnosis and treatment journey, to make sure that they are informed and emotionally supported to make decisions that deeply affect them,” he said.
Sir Andrew subsequently set up the Ruth Strauss Foundation which supports families and funds research.
“Having someone there who supported us to be open and honest with our children and help us to prepare them for Ruth’s death, was so incredibly important for us all,” he added.
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