Hidden among this week’s many headlines on the 70th birthday of the NHS was an important piece of nursing research that also deserves a fanfare.
Findings were revealed from one of the first studies to investigate the impact of specialist nurses on outcomes for cancer patients, including mortality and unplanned admissions.
The authors point out that, while previous research has backed the positive impact of specialists on patient satisfaction and quality of care, it has rarely touched on the life and death stuff.
Specifically, this study found that patients with lung cancer live longer, avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and cope better with treatment when cared for by specialist nurses.
The research was carried out by the University of Nottingham and London South Bank University, and involved more than 100,000 patients with lung cancer and 200 lung cancer specialist nurses.
It found many patients fared better if they received an assessment and care from a specialist nurse, especially if nurses started working with lung cancer patients as soon as they were diagnosed.
Notably, patients receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy had a lower risk of early death or emergency admission when they had been assessed by and were receiving care from a nurse specialist.
For example, the analysis showed radiotherapy patients who were assessed by a specialist nurse were 17% less likely to die in the first year than those not seen by a specialist nurse.
Among those behind the study is highly respected nurse researcher Professor Alison Leary, who is chair of healthcare workforce modelling at London South Bank.
A vocal advocate of nursing, her research has previously revealed that hundreds of unregistered care staff are working in NHS roles with advanced or specialist nursing titles, posing a patient safety risk.
Professor Leary said the new study, funded by the Dimbleby Cancer Centre, showed “the real tangible benefit of advanced practice nursing in cancer”.
“This is good for both patients and for nursing”
“It is clear that receiving care from a lung nurse specialist is fundamental to better outcomes for patients and families,” she added.
Naturally, this is good for both patients and for nursing, in terms of the progression of care, multidisciplinary working and empowerment. And I cannot think the findings would be that different if the research was repeated with other conditions.
There is also the workforce angle, as highlighted by the research team themselves. Given current shortages of cancer specialist nurses, they said they hoped the study would provide “valuable intelligence” to inform workforce policy.
“Clearly short staffing must be tackled, but not by wasting the skills of advanced practitioners”
It might also help to stop the short-sighted practice of redirecting specialist nurses into firefighting roles at trusts facing workforce pressures.
Clearly short staffing must be tackled, but not by wasting the skills of advanced practitioners. Would a medical consultant be told to do a junior doctor’s job because their hospital was short of medics?
So far, the researchers have presented their findings in poster form at a conference. But they have promised something much bigger later in the year.
They have described the findings revealed so far as just the warm up. I’m excited – and so should the nursing profession be. Evidence like this is invaluable in proving the value of advanced nursing practice, and we need more of it.