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Nurse clinics benefit radiotherapy patients

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Patients with cancer benefit more from regular nurse-led radiotherapy reviews than from those by consultants, according to a UK study supporting the role of specialist nurses.

The research was conducted on 20 head and neck patients seen by a consultant for seven months during their course of radiotherapy, and a further 23 patients seen in a specialist nurse clinic for the same period.

Researchers compared quality of life survey results plus feedback from GPs and patients about care received. Findings showed life quality scores for both groups were similar.

But patients seen by a nurse said they experienced less pain, compared with the consultant group. Nurses were also more likely to refer to multidisciplinary team members – with 22 referrals to a dietitian, social worker, district or Macmillan nurse, compared with 11 in the medical group.

Only half of the patients in the consultant group said they received information about treatment and nine said they were not prepared for side-effects including pain, choking and loss of taste. But patients in the nurse group all received written information and only four said they had not expected symptoms to be so severe.

As a result, the authors recommended the nurse-led service as a cost-effective alternative to consultants.

‘Patients spent more time with nurses. There was better treatment of mucositis and patients were given more analgesics and more oral care,’ said report author Mary Wells, research fellow in cancer nursing at Dundee University’s school of nursing and midwifery.

Martin Ledwick, head of Cancer Research UK’s information nurse team, said: ‘These are encouraging results from a small but important study. We have seen lots of anecdotal evidence suggesting nurse specialists can offer high quality care and that patients find their support appealing.’

Journal of Clinical Nursing (2008) 17: 1428–1439

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