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Specialist nurses boost care for lung cancer patients

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Lung cancer patients who see a specialist cancer nurse are more than twice as likely to receive active treatment for the disease as those who do not, a major national study has shown.

The National Lung Cancer Audit, published by the NHS Information Centre on 23 May, showed more people than ever are having potentially life-saving operations, but there are still wide variations in the level of treatment patients receive.

The annual study, which gathers data from every acute trust in the UK, shows “patients seen by a lung cancer nurse specialist were more likely to receive anti-cancer treatment compared to those that were not seen, or those where no data is recorded”.

Of patients seen by a lung cancer nurse specialist, 64.8% went on to receive treatment, compared with just 30.4% of patients who did not see a specialist nurse. The average for England and Wales was 60.5%.

Three-quarters of lung cancer patients were seen by a specialist nurse, the data shows, while 43.7% had a specialist nurse present at diagnosis.

Alan Dobson, nurse adviser for acute and emergency care at the Royal College of Nursing, said patients with access to a specialist nurse would get better care.

“If you see a specialist nurse, they’re more likely to recognise the signs and be alert to them,”he said. “And, because they have very good communication skills, they can explain to patients what treatment they need so they are more likely to accept it.”

He added: “One of the reasons we are not so good on cancer in the UK is we don’t diagnose early enough – by the time we do diagnose, surgery is often inappropriate.”

The audit, based on 2009 figures, also showed a six-fold difference in the proportion of lung cancer patients receiving potentially life-saving surgery – with 31.4% at Barts and the London NHS Trust compared with just 5.3% of patients at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.

There were also huge differences in the proportions of cases where patients were having “active treatment” – with 88.1% of lung cancer patients at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, compared with 19.2% for Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Trust.

The variations mask an overall improvement in the rate of patients being offered surgery, which has gone up 50% in five years, from 9% in 2005.

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