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'Treasure house' of prostate cancer nursing expertise could be lost

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A crisis is looming in prostate cancer care, with nearly half of specialist nurses due to retire or planning to leave the profession, a report has warned.

A survey of nearly 300 specialist nurses working with men affected by prostate cancer across the UK found 49% were approaching retirement or planned to leave nursing within the next 10 years.

“Our report shows a stark future where this treasure house of experience and expertise is lost and not replenished”

Owen Sharp

It also revealed the huge pressures currently faced by nurses working in this field, with 18% reporting caseloads of 600 patients and concern that key elements of care are being missed.

The picture is all the more worrying given prostate cancer is set to become the most common cancer overall by 2030, warned the report – titled The specialist nursing workforce caring for men with prostate cancer in the UK: Research report 2014.

The research was carried out for the charity Prostate Cancer UK, which said it was the largest survey of prostate cancer specialist nurses in recent years, with responses from 285 used in the analysis.

“The support these nurses provide is vital but our report shows a stark future where this treasure house of experience and expertise is lost and not replenished,” said Owen Sharp, chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK.

“Nurses are telling us they are over-stretched beyond belief, they feel under-valued and they simply don’t have time to give every patient the dedicated support and care he needs,” he said.

The survey revealed patchy specialist nursing provision with a number of nurses reporting frozen or vacant posts in their areas. 

The majority of posts were full-time but there were variations in the amount of time nurses were able to spend working directly with prostate cancer patients.

Just 23 nurses said they spent 100% of their time caring for prostate cancer patients, while 35 nurses spent less than 30% of their time doing so.

About 65% of respondents reported little or no admin support. Of those, 86% said they worked unpaid overtime with many reporting they worked at least four hours extra per week.

The survey also flagged up a lack of career development due to funding shortages, heavy workloads and lack of study leave.

“If we’re going to retain our existing nurses, they need more support and there is a clear need for increased investment into the workforce”

Philippa Aslet

There was concern about existing measures to bring on the next generation of specialist nurses with just 48 out of 285 nurses reporting they came into the profession through a development role. Nurses also reported limited opportunities to progress into leadership roles.

The research was supported by the British Association of Urological Nurses. Philippa Aslet, who was chief executive of association when the study took place, said more investment was needed to meet growing demand.

“The current workforce is under tremendous pressure and as a result of incredibly high workloads, we’re seeing some essential aspects of care drop off in many centres,” she said.

“If we’re going to retain our existing nurses, they need more support and there is a clear need for increased investment into the workforce,” she added.

One of the report’s authors Alison Leary, professor of healthcare modelling at London Southbank University, said there was also an urgent need for strategic workforce planning.

“The development of new opportunities for entry-level nurses to entice new talent, and new leadership positions to retain existing talent will be key in this,” she said.

Earlier this month, Professor Leary called on the NHS to invest more in specialist nurses in general, arguing that they had been shown to boost efficiency and provide good value for money.

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