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Variation in access to lung cancer specialist nurses 'must end'

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Every hospital trust should employ at least two specialist lung cancer nurses, according to a new report that highlights ongoing deficiencies in lung cancer care

The report published by the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) assesses progress in the 10 years since the body was formed.

“The average caseload in England is one nurse to approximately every 200 patients diagnosed. This is too much”

Naomi Horne

Despite improvements in the past decade, including an increase in the number of lung cancer specialist nurses, the report shows worrying variations in services and access to care.

Positives include the fact many more people with lung cancer in England and Wales are assigned a lung cancer nurse specialist up from just 35% in 2007 to 84% in 2013.

However, the percentage of patients seen by a specialist nurse varies significantly between different areas, from 36% to 100%, within England.

The report, which highlighted the difference that specialist nursing care makes to patient welfare, said every lung cancer patient should have access to a nurse specialist and have regular assessments.

UKLCC chair Richard Steyn, a consultant thoracic surgeon and associate medical director for surgery at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, said specialist nurses were key to good lung cancer care.

“They have a pivotal role,” he said. “We know that where patients are seen by a lung cancer nurse specialist within a fully-functioning multi-disciplinary team, they are more likely to have a good experience of care and it can often lead to better patient outcomes.”

“We know that where patients are seen by a lung cancer nurse specialist… they are more likely to have a good experience of care and it can often lead to better patient outcomes”

Richard Steyn

The report recommended that patients should be seen by a nurse specialist when they are diagnosed, at the end of each period of treatment and when needed throughout their illness.

Meanwhile, it said specialist nurse numbers needed to increase further, with every acute trust employing at least two and caseloads reduced to no more than 100 new patients per year.

Currently specialist nurses are “over-stretched and under-valued”, warned Naomi Horne, from the National Lung Cancer Forum for Nurses and a member of UKLCC’s clinical advisory group.

“The average caseload in England is one nurse to approximately every 200 patients diagnosed. This is too much,” she said.

The UKLCC’s report – titled Ten years on: The Changing Landscape of the UK’s biggest cancer killer (attached, top-right) – was published today.

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