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Ovarian cancer specialist nurses are ‘increasingly stretched’

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Specialist nurses caring for women with ovarian cancer are “increasingly stretched”, with many unable to provide the level of support they would like, reveals new research.

The research by the charity Target Ovarian Cancer found most – 93% – of women with the disease have access to a clinical nurse specialist, up from 84% in 2009.

“There is no doubt that gynaecological oncology nurses are stretched”

Natalie Percival

However, the study, which included a survey of 41 specialist nurses, revealed that many lack the time and resources to deliver optimum care.

Less than half of the nurses who took part – 46% – said their unit had enough nurses to care for all the women being treated there.

Meanwhile, less than two thirds – 63% – said they were able to meet all of women’s medical needs such as symptom control.

More than half – 53% – said they were unable to meet women’s wider needs such as mental wellbeing or issues around body image and sexuality.

The Pathfinder study also surveyed nearly 400 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, who reported gaps in care and support.

Just 58% who needed support to manage ascites – a build-up of fluid in the abdomen – said they received it.

Of those experiencing nausea, a common chemotherapy side effect, 69% got help and just 55% needing help with pain management said they received this.

“This is comparable to the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, which found that just 60% of women with ovarian cancer said there were always enough nurses on duty,” said the report.

About half of women with ovarian cancer – 51% – said they needed help to cope with the fear their cancer would come back.

But two third of nurses who responded to the survey – mainly gynaecological oncology clinical nurse specialists and advanced nurse practitioners – said they did not have the time to properly explain the symptoms of recurrent ovarian cancer.

Nurses also reported difficulties in referring women for palliative care, with just 54% always able to refer women.

National Forum of Gynaecological Oncology Nurses

Ovarian cancer nurses are ‘increasingly stretched’

Natalie Percival

The findings show specialist nurses are under more pressure, said the report.

“Responses from both women and the nurses providing their care show clinical nurse specialists are becoming increasingly stretched,” it said.

“Many are struggling to meet the medical needs of women with ovarian cancer and lack the time to provide the support needed around mental health and wider holistic needs. Many even struggle to find the time to talk through the possible symptoms of recurrence,” it stated.

“While headline figures suggest the majority of women are in contact with a CSN, the reality shows CNSs are not being given the time to provide women with the care they need,” added the report.

Natalie Percival, Macmillan advanced nurse practitioner and president of the National Forum of Gynaecological Oncology Nurses, said services needed investment.

“There is no doubt that gynaecological oncology nurses who support women with ovarian cancer are stretched,” she said.

“Getting the right support and investment is vital for us because women who have had a diagnosis of ovarian cancer and their families should have the best access to the care and support they need,” she noted.

Target Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer nurses are ‘increasingly stretched’

Annwen Jones

Target Ovarian Cancer chief executive Annwen Jones called on the NHS to honour a commitment in the new cancer strategy for England for all people with cancer to have access to a clinical nurse specialist. There was a need for an equivalent commitment in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, she added.

The charity is also calling for a new performance measure to assess whether cancer patients’ needs are being met and assess the level of support provided by specialist nurses.

Target Ovarian Cancer said one of its goals was to develop resources to help specialist nurses make the case “for investment in services at their centre or unit”.

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