Nurse shortages in UK leave 'over half a million people with cancer unsupported'

8 September 2021, 00:21

The nurse shortage has meant cancer patients have had less support.
The nurse shortage has meant cancer patients have had less support. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Nurse shortages in the UK have left over half a million people with cancer either unsupported or not supported enough, a charity has found.

A fifth of people with cancer - who responded to a survey from Macmillan Cancer Support - said they had not received the necessary support.

Among those were around a quarter who had been diagnosed in the last two years, with 44 per cent saying it had led to other medical impacts such as being unsure about what side effects of treatment they should be looking out for, ending up in A&E, or being unsure if they were taking their medication correctly.

With the total number of British people living with cancer taken into account, the findings equated to around 630,000 who felt they lacked the support.

The findings come after the government confirmed the NHS would receive £5.4 billion to help tackle the Covid and patient backlog as winter arrives.

It was announced on Tuesday that National Insurance would see a 1.25 per cent rise in order to help fund the changes, along with social care reforms.

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Lynda Thomas, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Coronavirus is continuing to deliver a devastating blow to cancer care that was already overstretched before the pandemic.

"Good care is a lifeline, not a luxury, and staff shortages mean exhausted nurses are struggling to deliver vital care in worsening conditions.

"People living with cancer and our NHS workforce don't need warm words of thanks or sympathy from governments. They need action.

"We need to see urgent commitments to address the shocking shortfall in cancer nurses.

"If governments fail to rebuild cancer services, all of us will pay the price when we or our families face a cancer diagnosis."

Macmillan estimated that if the number of specialist cancer nurses stayed at current levels, the gap in each nation by 2030 would be 3,371 in England, 166 in Wales, 100 in Northern Ireland and 347 in Scotland.

As a result, the charity called for investment in specialist nurses to care for patients with the disease.

Read more: Government set to defy JCVI advice and vaccinate healthy children 'from next week'

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It came after a patient recovering from cancer treatment told MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday that she felt "abandoned" when the pandemic hit.

Shirley Cochrane, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, said she was told to "self-manage" after the outbreak first struck.

"I feel like I've been abandoned by the health service throughout the pandemic," she said.

"Like someone's just literally pulled a security blanket away from underneath me."