Cancer services are destined for a “worryingly bleak future”, unless urgent action is taken to boost the specialist workforce, a charity chief has warned.
The comments from Gunes Kalkan, head of policy and campaigns at Breast Cancer Care, come after a major London trust was forced to bring forward the closure of a chemotherapy unit due to nurse shortages.
“There must be an urgent commitment to investing in recruitment and training of the cancer workforce”
The Cedar Centre at King George Hospital in Ilford, run by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, will stop offering these services on 12 November after four specialist chemotherapy nurses quit and two went on maternity nurses.
The 500 cancer patients who currently go to the unit each year for treatment will be transferred to the trust’s Queen’s Hospital in Romford instead.
The trust had already been planning to carry out the transfer at the end of this year but accelerated the move because of difficulties recruiting nurses to replace those who are leaving.
Chris Bown, the trust’s interim chief executive, told The Guardian: “Chemotherapy nurses are a specialist group and hard to recruit to.
“Centralising our chemotherapy service at Queen’s Hospital is part of our ongoing plans to improve the care and experience of our cancer patients. We’ve brought forward these plans due to staff shortages,” he said.
Last month, Breast Cancer Care warned that shortages of specialist nurses were denying incurable breast cancer patients the critical care they deserved.
Reacting to the announcement by Barking, Havering and Redbrdge, Mr Kalkan called for meaningful investment in the cancer workforce to be included in the upcoming NHS long-term plan, which is expected imminently.
He told Nursing Times: “It will be incredibly unsettling for women with breast cancer to hear news of a hospital closing a chemotherapy service due to falling numbers of specialist cancer nurses.
“After being diagnosed with the devastating disease patients must be able to count on getting the best treatment and care, both when and where they need. And increasing travel time to hospital for treatment risks intensifying the physical and emotional exhaustion people experience,” he said.
“It is extremely concerning that patients are left bearing the brunt of the stretched NHS at breaking point and if nothing changes we face a worryingly bleak future for cancer care,” noted Mr Kalken.
He added: “So there must be an urgent commitment to investing in recruitment and training of the cancer workforce in the NHS England long-term plan published next month – only then will solutions to tackle underfunding and staff shortages be found.”
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The resignations will reduce the number of chemotherapy nurses working at the trust from 19 to 15. With the absence of those on maternity leave, Queen’s Hospital will have 13 chemotherapy nurses to support an estimated 2,500 patients per year.
A spokesman for the trust told Nursing Times it was looking to recruit another two or three chemotherapy nurses for the new centralised service.
The Cedar Centre will be revamped into a wellbeing hub for cancer patients and their families.
The trust spokesman said he decision to speed up the transfer was not made lightly, but insisted that it improve care for patients as they could now receive all their cancer treatment at Queen’s and also go to Cedar for advice and support.
Queen’s Hospital Romford