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Cancer charity gets tough on nurse funding

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Plans to increase the number of cancer nurse specialists could be put at risk if the NHS cannot commit to funding new posts, a leading cancer charity has warned. 

Gordon Brown’s pledge to provide one to one dedicated nursing care for all cancer patients - part of the Labour Party election manifesto launched last week - could see hundreds more cancer nurse specialist posts created if the party regain power at next month’s election.

However, initial funding for these posts is likely to come from charity MacMillan Cancer Support, which already provides more than 3,000 cancer nursing posts across the UK. It has said it will only provide initial funding for new posts if there is a national commitment from the NHS that this funding will be continued regardless of the forthcoming public spending squeeze.

MacMillan Cancer Support clinical programme manager Jacqui Graves told Nursing Times: “It can cost around £145,000 to fund each nurse and there is no way we are going to put in 600 extra nurses if the NHS is not going to pick up the funding after that period”.

The 2008 census of the advanced and specialist cancer nursing workforce, published in February, showed that a third of the 2,193 cancer specialist nurses in England are funded by MacMillan Cancer Support, including 48 per cent of lung cancer nurse specialists.

Ms Graves said that trusts that try to renege on agreements with the charity to fund MacMillan nurses could have funding for all MacMillan posts – up to half a million investment in some trusts - withdrawn from the organisation.

RCN policy advisor Howard Catton agreed that more robust agreements around joint funding for specialist nurses are needed to protect the posts, and that the NHS should consider underwriting funding for nurse specialists.

But he warned that taking a “hard business approach” to funding in a tough financial climate could result in less specialist nurses and services being withdrawn.

“The big worry is that we just won’t have as many of these posts,” he said. “NHS or voluntary organisations may not proceed with establishing posts because they are worried about the financial risk or exposure, and the posts may appear unattractive to future nurse specialists who see them as risky and only funded on a short term basis.”

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