18 February 2016
In the run up to the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May, Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on all the political parties here to support its campaign for more Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS).
We believe that newly diagnosed cancer patients should have access to a specialist cancer nurse. This recommendation was included in the original Cancer Services Framework for Northern Ireland, which is currently being revised, but has not yet achieved.
Clinical Nurse Specialists play an important role caring for cancer patients as their key worker. They have specialist knowledge, which is often invaluable to patients and their families, enabling them to ask detailed questions which they may feel uncomfortable posing to a consultant. Nurse Specialists are on hand to help manage more complex symptoms or side effects associated with cancer.
At present, breast cancer patients and most patients with lung cancer are assigned a CNS as their key point of contact through treatment. But there are considerable variations in specialist nursing provision for those diagnosed with different cancer types and across different Health Trusts.
Last year’s Northern Ireland Cancer Patient Experience Survey showed that patients with a CNS were much more positive about the care they received – but more than 1 in 4 miss out on this support.
Despite previous commitments to improve access for all patients, a Macmillan 2014 census of the specialist cancer nursing workforce revealed that NI had the lowest provision in the UK.
Macmillan is concerned that plans to increase CNS numbers in Northern Ireland could be affected by future budgetary constraints.
65-year-old Philomena Gallagher from Portadown was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 as a result of a routine mammogram. The grandmother of six didn’t want to tell her family at first, because she didn’t want to worry them. She says having a breast care nurse helped her break the news to those closest to her:
“I don’t think I could have coped without her. When the consultant tells you that you’ve got cancer, there are so many medical terms to take in. I didn’t want to interrupt and, to be honest, I only thought of things to ask when I got home.
“Having a Clinical Nurse Specialist makes all the difference. I could sit down with her and talk things through. And later on, if I had any concerns, I could just phone and ask – even after I’d left hospital. She took the fear away.”
Macmillan believes that an increase in the CNS workforce should be pursued as a priority, both to improve cancer care across Northern Ireland and to increase value for money within cancer services. Specialist cancer nurses have been shown to reduce emergency admissions, the length of a patient’s hospital stay, the number of follow-up appointments and the number of medical consultations.