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Majority of leukaemia patients lack access to specialist nurse

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Only around a third of patients with leukaemia have access to specialist nurses, according to leading blood cancer charity.

A new report, published by Leukaemia Care, has indicated that only 38% of leukaemia patients have access to a clinical nurse specialist.

“They felt more positive compared to patients who only had access to other support services”

Monica Izmajlowicz

This is in stark contrast to NHS England’s targets that say that, by 2020, all cancer patients should have access to a specialist nurse, noted the charity.

The report – titled My CNS Matters – also revealed that, of those who do not have a specialist nurse, 66% of patients it surveyed were not offered any additional support.

The charity highlighted that a specialist nurse was a “key member” of a patient’s care team, providing emotional and physical support, as well as expertise in a particular cancer type.

As well as its survey of over 2,000 patients, Leukaemia Care also issued 210 Freedom of Information requests to trusts.

It was intended to help understand specialist nurse availability across regions, the extent of their specialisation and to assess whether NHS burden or lack of training could be impacting nurse numbers and access.

The results revealed shortages in the nursing workforce had a huge impact on the availability of specialist nurses, particularly over busy periods like winter, and only 25% had a leukaemia specific nurse.

In 2015, NHS England set the target that by 2020 all cancer patients should have access to a clinical nurse specialist, or other named key-worker, noted the charity.

While the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey from 2015 suggested that 85% of leukaemia patients had “been given the name of a CNS”, findings from the Leukaemia Care 2016 patient experience survey suggest that specialist nurse access is actually much poorer.

Leukaemia Care also drew attention to chancellor Philip Hammond’s recent budget pledge of extra funding for the NHS and his comments that “nurses provide invaluable support to us all”.

Throughout December, the charity said it wanted to show exactly why #myCNSmatters and is inviting patients and professionals to voice their experiences on social media.

It said it hoped to have the message heard by key stakeholders and NHS trusts so that, entering the new year, specialist nurse access is “firmly on the agenda”.

Leukaemia Care

Majority of leukaemia patients lack access to specialist nurse

Monica Izmajlowicz

To improve access across the UK, Leukaemia Care recommended ensuring patients were introduced to their nurse from diagnosis, as it could make a huge impact on the subsequent patient journey.

It also suggested increasing the specialisation of nurses to alleviate pressure and improving staff training in specific disease areas, to ensure the best possible management of blood cancer types.

The hardest but most crucial task of all was to ensure that specialist nurses levels were keeping pace with the ever increasing number of cancer patients, said the charity in its report.

Monica Izmajlowicz, Leukaemia Care’s chief executive, said: “2,019 leukaemia patients took part in our survey, with a combination of those who had access to a CNS and those who didn’t.

She said: “We discovered only 38% had access and as a result were better supported, had an increased understanding at various stages of their journey and felt more involved in their decisions.

“Additionally, they felt more positive compared to patients who only had access to other support services,” she added.

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