The number of specialist adult cancer nurses in England has reached an all-time high, with more than 3,000 posts in the NHS, newly released figures show.
In the last three years alone, 283 more specialist cancer nurses are now working in hospitals, meaning there are now more than whole-time equivalent 3,000 posts in the NHS, according to Macmillan Cancer Support, which has funded the census.
“This is no time for complacency. The number of people living with cancer will double from two to four million by 2030”
But the charity warned that it is “no time for complacency” as research published last month showed that around one in 10 people with cancer in England have still not been assigned a cancer nurse.
It also found that one in three nurses are aged 50 or over, which means many will be approaching retirement in the next five to 10 years. For some cancers in certain parts of the country this rises to half of all cancer nurses.
The census included hospital-based specialist cancer nurses working in adult cancer care. It only covered Agenda for Change bands 5 to 9 but also included vacant posts.
It excluded nurses who specialise in chemotherapy, radiotherapy, palliative care, pain management, paediatrics, teenagers and young adults or non-patient facing roles and those who work “as and when required” – bank and agency staff.
Macmillan said the census, which collected data from nearly all (97%) hospitals in England, highlights the crucial role it has played in supporting cancer nurses, as more than three-quarters (79%) of new posts since 2011 are Macmillan nurses.
Chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, Ciaran Devane, said the findings were “encouraging”.
“Research shows that having access to one of these cancer nurses is the one most important factors in making sure patients feel treated as human beings, supported and engaged in their care, rather than just a set of symptoms,” he added.
“But this is no time for complacency,” he said. “The number of people living with cancer will double from two to four million by 2030 and many of these people will not just have cancer but a number of complex conditions.
“At the same time, we are faced with an ageing workforce with worrying numbers soon to retire,” said Mr Devane.
“It will be a huge challenge for charities, decision makers in the NHS and politicians alike to make sure that the NHS cancer workforce is equipped, supported and flexible enough to manage this daunting change,” he added.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Specialist services for cancer, as with the rest of the health service, are set to face unprecedented demand over the coming years and this is a challenge we must rise to.
“The next generation of cancer patients will be failed if not enough nurses are trained and kept in the profession,” he said.
He added: “The health service must increase its funding of specialist nurses across the board to ensure that all patients with long-term conditions have equal access to their vital care and support.”