The number of specialist breast cancer nurses is failing to keep pace with rates of diagnosis of the disease causing increasing pressure on the workforce, a charity has warned.
Breast Cancer Care said the number of new breast cancer cases in England rose from 38,153 in 2003 to 44,831 in 2013, an increase of almost 20% over 10 years.
But it claimed the number of breast cancer clinical nurse specialists has remained at 434 since 2007, according to a workforce report by charity Macmillan.
The charity warned the widening gap between the number of people being diagnosed and the size of this specialist workforce was placing increasing pressure on nurses.
“Breast cancer nurses are under more and more pressure to provide the same quality of care with much less time”
Samia al Qadhi
More women are being diagnosed with the disease due to an ageing population and lifestyle factors such as women drinking more alcohol and higher obesity levels.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of women survive the condition, but will face debilitating side effects of the disease and its treatment, which affects nurse workloads further.
The charity noted a recent recommendation by the Independent Cancer Taskforce – set up by NHS England - said all patients should have access to a clinical nurse specialist or other key worker to coordinate their care.
The charity urged NHS England to take immediate action to implement this recommendation.
Breast Cancer Care chief executive Samia al Qadhi said: “Breast cancer nurses do a fantastic job but they are under more and more pressure to provide the same quality of care with much less time, more responsibilities and many more patients.”
“The NHS is working with partners such as Health Education England to plan for future workforce needs, and to implement the Independent Cancer Taskforce strategy”
She added: “We welcome the recommendation [from the Independent Cancer Taskforce] that every cancer patient should have access to a specialist nurse, but the next step is how we make that a reality.
“We know NHS England’s budgets are tight, but as the number of breast cancer cases rises and rises, action is needed to address this now.”
An NHS England spokeswoman said decisions on the number of posts for clinical nurse specialists were the responsibility of individual hospitals.
“The NHS is working with partners such as Health Education England to plan for future workforce needs, and to implement the independent cancer taskforce strategy. In the meantime, it’s great news that breast cancer survival rates are now the highest they have ever been,” she said.