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Medical Negligence

Terminal breast cancer patients “abandoned” amidst NHS specialist nurse shortage

Written by Saima Mazhar, Partner & Head of Clinical Negligence


November 3, 2022

By Saima Mazhar, Senior Solicitor in the Medical Negligence Department at Fletchers

The charity organisation, Breast Cancer Care recently reported that around 72%, almost three quarters of NHS Trusts across the UK, fail to provide dedicated nurses to terminally ill breast cancer patients as a result of a shortage of specialist nurses.

This is shocking given that you would think such support is available for patients with incurable disease when it is most needed.

The charity only saw a 7% increase in the provision of such support by trusts, since last looking into the issue some two years ago. The charity’s findings are disappointing particularly given promises by the government’s cancer strategy three years ago, that all cancer patients would have a designated nurse by 2020.

The Chief Executive, Samia al Qadhi reported on how this illustrated the degree to which NHS care for those with incurable breast cancer had stagnated, stating… “After this life-changing and life-limiting diagnosis patients continue to be abandoned without the ongoing, specialist support they need to manage complex treatment and debilitating side effects, like chronic pain and fatigue.

“People living with incurable breast cancer tell us that access to a specialist nurse is the single most important aspect of their care and without it they feel isolated, forgotten and invisible.

“So today’s failings must not be swept under the carpet.

Ms Qadhi urged the government to provide the funding that would enable people access for specialist support for when it is most needed.

Cancer Research has reported that 1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. It appears to be on the rise and the risk of developing cancer depends on many factors including age, genetics and exposure to risk factors. It goes without saying that specialist nurses are therefore needed more than ever to care and support for those suffering from cancer. We all know of someone close to us, whether this be a friend or family who has been diagnosed with cancer, and would hope that the NHS has provisions in place to make the journey after such a daunting diagnosis as easy as possible through a dedicated support network of medical professionals, including specialist nurses.

Breast Cancer Care reported that less than half of the trusts were able to confirm statistics in relation to breast cancer patients in their care. Additionally a large percentage of trusts failed to assess emotional and physical needs at diagnosis and during the duration of treatment. There was a failure by a large proportion of trusts to provide patients with a debrief following each treatment and how they had responded to it.

It is unfortunate that the charity has identified areas where patients suffering from serious illness are being failed in terms of basic care and support that could make their journey less difficult. Access to dedicated 1:1 support from specialist nurses could bridge any such gap.

In the UK there are an estimated 35,000 people living with secondary breast cancer. Around 11,500 people die from the disease each year yet the NHS appears to be failing to provide these patient with the crucial specialist care and much needed support at a time when it is most vital. A push for funding from the government would enable NHS Trusts to plug this hole and make the government’s cancer strategy for all cancer patients to have a dedicated nurse by 2020, a reality.