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Cutting specialist nurse posts could reduce cancer care quality, warn UK researchers

Patients with cancer have better care experiences at hospitals that employ more oncology specialist nurses, according to researchers, who argue their findings should act as a warning to trusts not to cut these posts.

The study, published today in the Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, reviewed existing data from the 2010 National Cancer Patient Experience Survey.

Analysis showed small but important differences in experiences of care, said the researchers from the University of Southampton.

Patients at better staffed trusts were more likely to report that people treating and caring for them worked well together and they received enough emotional support during outpatient treatment.

Women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer were also 34% more likely to report that staff did everything possible to control treatment side effects in trusts with the most clinical nurse specialists. 

Study author Peter Griffiths, professor of health services research at Southampton and one of the country’s leading nurse researchers, said: “This is the first direct evidence that a widespread policy of employing more specialist nurses is linked to measurable benefits to patients. 

“The absolute differences we see are small but if your odds of receiving good emotional support are increased by 15%, I suspect most of us would take it if we were being treated for cancer.”

Professor Griffiths stated: “In these difficult times many trusts are looking to save money and evidence that clearly links the employment of specialist nurses to better patient experience is important. Trusts should realise that if these posts are cut patient experience can suffer.”

Study co-author Alison Richardson, professor of cancer nursing and end of life care at Southampton General Hospital, added: “This research is important for hospitals.

“It demonstrates variability in cancer nurse specialist provision across different sites and that specific cancer multidisciplinary teams can have an impact on the quality of cancer patient experience,” she said.

“They need to be aware that any decision to reduce the number of these types of nurses could have a detrimental effect on patients.”

Commenting on the findings, Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This research backs up the wealth of evidence showing just how important cancer nurse specialists are, especially for improving cancer patient experience.

“Sadly access to these nurses varies across the country and by cancer type, while the number of people with cancer is increasing.

“It is essential that cancer nurse specialist roles are protected and every effort is made for more cancer patients to have access to one,” he said.

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • michael stone

    'Study author Peter Griffiths, professor of health services research at Southampton and one of the country’s leading nurse researchers, said: “This is the first direct evidence that a widespread policy of employing more specialist nurses is linked to measurable benefits to patients.

    “The absolute differences we see are small but if your odds of receiving good emotional support are increased by 15%, I suspect most of us would take it if we were being treated for cancer.”'

    I would expect specialist nurses would improve care, and it is a bit unexpected that 'absolute differences are small' ?

    Although

    'Women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer were also 34% more likely to report that staff did everything possible to control treatment side effects in trusts with the most clinical nurse specialists.'

    mentions 34% reported by patients, and 34% is not really small - this probably depends on exactly what you measuring the differences for.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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