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'Workforce should be a priority for the future of cancer care'

Fran Woodard
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The cancer community came together this week at the Britain Against Cancer Conference to discuss the future of cancer care, with the crisis facing the UK’s cancer workforce high up on the agenda.

The stakes could not be higher.

The NHS long-term plan represents a once in a generation opportunity to significantly improve cancer care in England.

We cannot diagnose cancer earlier or provide world-leading care and support without enough doctors and nurses with the right skills to deliver this on the ground.

Reported shortages in critical areas of cancer care and waiting times being regularly breached are warning signs that the workforce is already significantly strained.

”As the impact of staffing shortages starts to bite, it’s crucial that the government first acknowledges the current gaps in the health workforce”

With the number of people living with cancer in the UK set to grow in coming years, these issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

As the impact of staffing shortages starts to bite, it’s crucial that the government first acknowledges the current gaps in the health workforce.

It is essential there are more professionals in place to meet the needs of a larger number of people being diagnosed and living with cancer. It also needs to consider how the cancer workforce can be supported to ensure people feel valued, supported and equipped with the right skills to do their jobs.

Professional development must not be viewed as a nice to have. Allocating time for learning and training for staff in schedules would help improve their knowledge, ensuring patient safety and increasing their skill set. This could include learning about newer forms of treatment, such as immunotherapy.

Introducing open and transparent e-rostering processes would also help to improve key professionals’ work-life balance as well as reducing waiting times for cancer patients.

We must also get much better at valuing our most experienced staff. Setting up schemes, such as Retire and Return, offers people the opportunity to step back from the demanding pace of the front line into skilled roles which offer more flexibility.

However, workforce is a very technical word for a very simple issue. It’s about people, and it is vital that all health professionals who care for people living with cancer are also looked after themselves as well. They should be able to develop professionally and have fulfilling careers.

If this is achieved, we will not only retain staff for longer and make recruitment easier, but we will truly be working towards making sure that the personalised care, which we know makes such a difference, is available for all.

At the Britain Against Cancer Conference, we heard from people across the sector about various priorities.

It is clear to us that workforce should be among the issues at the top of that list – and a costed plan, to grow and sustain the cancer workforce over the long term, a key priority for the government going forward.

Fran Woodard is executive director of policy and impact, Macmillan Cancer Support; Emma Greenwood is director of policy, Cancer Research UK

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