What is a Macmillan nurse?

Macmillan nurses are specialist cancer nurses with experience and qualifications in cancer care. They can help you to understand your cancer diagnosis and treatment options and support you through your cancer experience.

What does a Macmillan nurse do?

Macmillan nurses work in different areas of cancer care. They may work in hospitals, hospices or in the community.

Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Some Macmillan nurses are based at the hospital and work as part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT). They are experts in certain types of cancer and are called clinical nurse specialists (CNS). They are often your main contact at the hospital (your key worker). They can give you information about the type of cancer you have, your treatment options and possible side effects. They can also give you and your family practical and emotional support. You are usually referred to a CNS when you are first diagnosed. But there may not always be a CNS for your type of cancer. You can ask your doctor if there is a nurse specialist you can talk to.

A CNS will have ‘Macmillan’ in their job title if their post has been funded by Macmillan. They will usually keep Macmillan in their job title even if their post is later funded by the NHS.

Other Macmillan nurses specialise in certain areas, such as a Macmillan chemotherapy nurse or a Macmillan lymphoedema nurse. 

Palliative care nurses

Often people use the term Macmillan nurse when they are talking about nurses who help manage any symptoms of advanced cancer. These nurses are experts in controlling symptoms, such as pain, sickness or breathlessness. They also give emotional support and practical advice to you and people close to you. They will help you live as well as possible.

Palliative care nurses may be based in hospitals, and visit you on the ward. Or they may be based in the community, and visit you at home.

Macmillan nurses work with your GP and community team to give specialist advice on any medicines and other support you may need. They do not usually give direct physical nursing care (hands on nursing). Your nurse may be called a Macmillan nurse or a palliative care nurse. They have the same skills and expertise and do the same job. In some areas they may be known by other names such as the name of the hospice they are attached to.


When would I be referred to a Macmillan palliative care nurse?

Some people think that Macmillan nurses only help people at the end of life. But you can be referred to a palliative care nurse at any stage of your cancer experience.  Some people may be referred when they are first diagnosed. Palliative means that is it not possible to cure the cancer. But many people can live for a long time having palliative treatment to control the cancer and help manage symptoms.

How do I get a Macmillan palliative care nurse?

A healthcare professional will need to refer you for palliative care. This will depend on your situation and needs. The referral can be from your cancer doctor or nurse, your GP or community nurse. They will talk to you first and only refer you if you agree. If you would like to be referred but no one has talked to you about it, talk to your cancer team or GP.

There are also other nurses who help look after people with cancer at home. These include district (community) nurses and Marie Curie nurses.

Can I get a Macmillan nurse by calling the Macmillan helpline?

It is not possible to get a Macmillan nurse by calling the Macmillan helpline. The Macmillan helpline does not have contact details for Macmillan nurses.

Macmillan often fund a Macmillan post for 3 years, but then the NHS or other organisation will continue the funding.

If you want to talk about your care or give feedback about a Macmillan nurse, you should contact the hospital, hospice or your GP practice.