1 in 4 cancer patients in London lack specialist nursing support


New research by Macmillan Cancer Support reveals that the ongoing cancer nurse crisis has now left almost 1 in 4 people diagnosed with cancer in London in the last five years (23%)[i] with a lack of support. Dedicated healthcare professionals are struggling to provide the vital care needed.

In the most serious cases, the charity is concerned that this lack of support from a specialist cancer nurse may even be affecting some people’s chances of survival.

The research also reveals that more than 5,000 people who were diagnosed with cancer in London in the last five years (6%) have experienced at least one potentially serious medical implication as a result of a lack of support from a specialist cancer nurse, such as ending up in A&E, or not knowing if they were talking their medication correctly or what side effects to look out for.

In a new report, Cancer nursing on the line, Macmillan estimates that more than 3,000 additional cancer nurses are needed across England to ensure cancer patients get the care and support they need. Not only would a fully resourced specialist nursing workforce help save and improve patients’ lives, it would reduce pressures on the NHS and could also create savings for the health service as it struggles to cope with the impact of Covid-19.

Emma Tingley, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan in London said:

“Nurses and healthcare professionals in London work incredibly hard but there is a cancer nurse staffing shortage. It’s no surprise that 33% of Londoners diagnosed with cancer in the last five years said that the healthcare professionals working on their care had unmanageable workloads.

We are calling on the Government to create a ringfenced Cancer Nurse Training Fund of £124 million to train an extra 3,371 specialist cancer nurses across England at the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.

“We want the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to acknowledge and address this ticking time bomb; he needs to ensure there are enough staff to provide patients with the quality of care they need and deserve.

“Without this, the Government risks failing on commitments to treat cancer quickly and appropriately, leaving thousands of patients across the capital struggling to access their cancer care.”

Alison Hill, Macmillan Director of Nursing for Cancer, Palliative Care and End of Life at Barts Health NHS Trust says:

“One of the biggest issues that we are facing is that simply not enough nurses are coming into the profession in the first place to fill the available posts. Those that we have, do not always have all the specialist skills and training required to treat people with cancer as this can take years to develop. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtably put an increasing strain on the cancer nurse workforce that was already under pressure. This is not a new crisis but has been made worse Covid. To add to the problem, what we have noticed increasingly over the last 12 months is, nurses due for retirement but who may have stayed longer are now retiring at the earliest opportunity, due to the challenges at work.”

Della, aged 59, from South West London was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November 2019 having been treated for breast cancer in 2010. She explains the difference in nursing she has noticed over this time and the importance her specialist cancer nurse made to her recovery:

“From the point I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, my specialist cancer nurse, was by my side. She helped me to understand different elements of my treatment, from helping me get a bed for my first consultation to checking I had all the paperwork needed for my blood tests before chemotherapy started. Having my cancer nurse’s support made all the difference in helping to navigate through the labyrinth of dealing with cancer treatment. Without her, my cancer treatment would have felt lonely, confusing and isolating and I’m grateful for her support every single day.

“This time round I have noticed a big difference in the care available which hasn’t been helped by the pandemic. I started treatment for ovarian cancer at the start of 2020 and I am still receiving treatment now. This time round the cancer nurses are so busy you just can’t get hold of them if you have questions as they have so many people they need to see. Ten years ago, it wasn’t like that, now they seem really overstretched and I have to chase all the time to get the support I need, and my questions answered.

“It makes me feel so sad to know that not everybody will get a specialist cancer nurse to support them like I had. I have chatted to a few cancer patients who express that they feel alone, and they’ve received little to no support through their experience, including no support from a specialist cancer nurse.”