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Lung cancer 'poor relation' of other nurse specialisms

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Lung cancer specialist nurses see only half of lung cancer patients, and are present in a quarter of diagnoses, a report has revealed.

Only half of lung cancer patients have access to a lung cancer specialist nurse and one is present in just a quarter of diagnoses, according to latest figures from the NHS Information Centre.

The National Lung Cancer Audit Report 2009, published this month, included figures for access to lung cancer nurses for the first time this year.

The audit report stated that: “Only 51 per cent of patients were seen by a lung cancer specialist nurse and only a quarter had the specialist nurse present at the time of their diagnosis – even though they provide a vital supporting role for patients with lung cancer and mesothelioma.”  

The report showed a higher proportion of patients who are seen by a specialist nurse received surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy to halt the spread of their disease. Just under 60 per cent of patients with access to a specialist nurse undergo active treatment, compared to just over 30 per cent of patients without this access.

Responding to the audit, National Lung Cancer Forum for Nurses chair Liz Darlison said nurse specialists could play a pivotal role in cancer care, but compared to other forms of the disease, lung cancer remained a “poor relation” in terms of access to services.

She said: “On average, there is one lung cancer nurse in England for every 132 people diagnosed with lung cancer, compared to 82 people per every breast cancer nurse.

“Without access to lung cancer nurses, patients will suffer as they will not have access to the in-depth nursing knowledge, care and support that they can provide,” she added.

Other findings from the audit report found about half of lung cancer patients receive treatment to prevent the cancer from spreading and one in ten receives surgery – though standards vary across the country.

Whereas 20 per cent of patients receive active treatment at Trafford Healthcare NHS Trust, the figure for Guy and St Thomas’ NHS Trust is 88 per cent. Just over four per cent of patients at North Middlesex Universities Hospital NHS Trust are operated on, compared to 22.2 per cent of those at University Hospital of Leicester NHS Trust.

Lung Cancer Foundation medical director, Dr Jesme Fox, said: “The massive geographical variation in access to active anti cancer treatment, especially surgery, is very worrying. Patients deserve better. These differences urgently need to be explored and rectified. Next year’s audit, we hope, will show a marked improvement.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Is Lung Cancer the "poor relation" because some people stiil say most lung cancers are self inflicted? a lot of non smokers do not realise smoking is an addiction and just like any other form of addiction it is not an easy habit to break, I supported a friend from diagnosis to death a few years ago, although her husband knew she had lung cancer she could not face telling friends or even her grown up children, all of whom thought she had some form of COPD until her death, this has caused an enormous family rift and sadly one of her sons will not speak to me as he feels I had no right to hold this information from him, he does not underatand that I would have breached my professional code of conduct if I had of revealed details of my friends illness or poor prognosis. Her husband supported her decision not to tell but has since admitted he felt embarrassed by my friends diagnosis.

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