A shortage of specialist nurses is leaving patients with incurable breast cancer feeling “abandoned” without critical care, according to a charity.
Breast Cancer Care said thousands of patients continued to be denied crucial care three years after the government promised access to a designated nurse for all cancer patients.
“A specialist nurse is the single most important aspect of their care”
Samia al Qadhi
The charity issued its warning today on the back of a Freedom of Information request to NHS providers across England, Scotland and Wales.
The resulting figures reveal that 72% of NHS trusts and health boards do not provide a dedicated nurse for people living with incurable breast cancer.
There has been only a 7% increase in the trusts and boards providing nursing support in the two years since the charity’s last research, which it said indicated a “worrying lack of NHS investment in care to help people live well for longer”.
It noted that cancer patient experience surveys indicated that people with a clinical nurse specialist were more likely to be told about side effects and given the opportunity to discuss their needs and concerns.
As a result, Breast Cancer Care said it was calling for urgent funding to be made available to recruit and train nurses to fill the significant gaps.
It said it wanted everyone diagnosed with the incurable disease to have a “secondary support package” at the point of diagnosis.
This would ensure they could access a dedicated nurse to co-ordinate care and a referral to tailored support services, to give them the vital, specialist support they need to live well.
Charity chief executive Samia al Qadhi said: “Our staggering findings reveal just how much NHS nursing care for people with incurable breast cancer has stagnated.
After this life-changing and life-limiting diagnosis patients continue to be abandoned without the ongoing, specialist support they need to manage complex treatment and debilitating side effects, like chronic pain and fatigue.
“People living with incurable breast cancer tell us that access to a specialist nurse is the single most important aspect of their care and without it they feel isolated, forgotten and invisible,” she said. “So today’s failings must not be swept under the carpet.
“We are calling on all UK governments to create a ‘secondary support package’ for incurable secondary breast cancer to ensure that everyone has access to the specialist support they need, when they need it.
Lack of nurse support for incurable breast cancer
She added: “Funding to recruit and train the urgently needed clinical nurse specialists must be made available, starting with a commitment in the NHS England Long Term Plan published next month.”
Breast Cancer Care said its figures also revealed other failings in the care of people with incurable breast cancer across the UK:
For example, 40% of trusts and boards were unable to state, when asked, how many secondary breast cancer patients are currently under their care.
In addition, 70% of hospital organisations across the UK do not assess people’s emotional and physical needs at diagnosis and as treatment changes.
Meanwhile, 80% of hospital organisations do not give all patients a summary at the end of each treatment, including about how they have responded to the treatment.