Lung cancer nurse specialists provide a vital role in caring for lung cancer patients and their families – yet they are often overstretched and their roles are being squeezed.
The role of the lung cancer nurse specialist changed significantly after the publication of the Calman Hine Report in 1995, which urged cancer services to become more patient focused and more organised.
Today, nurse specialists are engaged in the various stages of lung cancer patient experience. Some meet patients at the point of a suspected lung cancer diagnosis – providing patients with valuable support and information at an early stage, as well as a consistent point of contact through what is an incredibly stressful and uncertain time. Some nurses are very visible throughout the treatment phase – while others focus on end of life care.
However, regardless of where in the patient journey the nurse specialist is tasked, the most significant part of their job is acting as the patient’s advocate. The lung cancer nurse specialist is pivotal in representing the needs of patients at key multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings as well as within the wider community team.
Sadly not every lung cancer patient has access to a lung cancer specialist nurse. According to the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC), there is only one lung cancer specialist nurse (in England) for every 122 people diagnosed – and lung cancer has the second lowest provision of cancer nurse specialists in the country. This can present major challenges as nurse specialists strive to provide quality information and support to newly diagnosed and existing patients.
The value of the lung cancer specialist nurse is unarguable. Recent research has shown that, where patients are seen by a lung cancer nurse specialist within a fully-functioning multidisciplinary team (MDT), patients are more likely to have a good experience of care and this can often lead to better patient outcomes.
Indeed, the lung cancer nurse is often instrumental in mobilising community services and is often involved with symptom management whilst the patient is undergoing tests. Regular telephone contact between the nurse specialist and the patient can help alleviate some of the anxiety in the treatment process. The lung cancer nurse specialist can also ensure that any further changes in care can be put in place prior to the involvement of the oncology or surgical team. This can optimise the patient’s chance of being considered for active treatment. Nurse specialists are also often vital in providing good quality follow-up clinics.
Yet lung cancer nurse specialists do not always receive the support and recognition they deserve – and there is a shortage of this valuable resource across the country. We need to put pressure on those who have influence to ensure the role of lung cancer nurse specialists is maintained and protected.
Macmillan Lead Lung Cancer Nurse
Today sees the launch of the next phase of Public Health England’s Be Clear on Cancer campaign which aims to make people aware of the symptoms of lung cancer and encourage them to visit their GP if they have had a cough for three weeks or more. The UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) is highly supportive of this awareness initiative and we have been working with key stakeholders over the last eight years to encourage national campaigns such as this in order to help achieve our vision of doubling lung cancer survival.
Almost 24,000 people a year in England receive a lung cancer diagnosis when the disease is at a late stage – only around 15 per cent of cases are diagnosed at the earliest stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful.
Lung cancer is currently England’s biggest cancer killer, causing around 28,000 deaths each year and with around 33,800 people diagnosed. Those diagnosed at the earliest stage are five times more likely to survive lung cancer for at least five years than those diagnosed at a late stage.
One of the reasons behind England’s low early diagnosis rate is the public’s lack of awareness about the disease and its symptoms. New data shows:
- almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of people are unaware that lung cancer is England’s biggest cancer killer
- despite the fact that lung cancer is most common in people aged over 50, one in four people (26 per cent) think that all age groups are equally at risk of lung cancer
- 40 per cent of people are unaware that a cough that has lasted three weeks or more is a potential symptom of lung cancer.
These figures show that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the signs of lung cancer and ultimately save more lives.
Despite improvements in lung cancer services in recent years, the UKLCC is acutely aware that wide variations in lung cancer treatment and care continue to persist across England and the UK and survival rates lag behind other comparable countries in Europe. To note, patients in the UK are diagnosed with more advanced disease than many other countries and almost 40% first reach specialist care via an emergency admission to hospital.,
TheUKLCC’S vision is to double lung cancer survival during the next eight to ten years, with the co-operation of health professionals, policy makers, local primary care organisations, NHS and Government. By applying the best standards already being demonstrated in the best cancer centres in Europe, we could save 3,500 lives each year
The Be Clear on Cancer campaign will see adverts – featuring real GPs – on TV, print and radio from today until mid-August. Face-to-face events will also take place in a number of shopping centres. To find out more about the campaign, visit www.gov.uk/phe
Mr Richard Steyn
Consultant Thoracic Surgeon, Associate Medical Director – Surgery, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust
Honorary Associate Professor, University of Warwick
It is commonly acknowledged that lung cancer patients get a raw deal when compared to other cancer patients. Despite accounting for more than a fifth of all UK cancer deaths, lung cancer receives less than four per cent of all current UK cancer research funding. And despite improvements in services in recent years, wide variations in lung cancer treatment and care continue to persist across the UK. For a number of reasons, outcomes remain poor – with survival rates lagging seriously behind other comparable EU countries.
Since its formation, the UK Lung Cancer Coalition has worked tirelessly with health professionals, NHS trusts, cancer networks, Royal Colleges, parliamentarians and Government to help reduce the terrible death toll of lung cancer. It has been a major driver in encouraging hospitals to submit data to the National Lung Cancer Audit to help drive up best-practice and improve standards of care for patients. It has published a number of ground-breaking, high-profile, national reports into lung cancer. However, there is still much more to be done.
Our latest initiative – in partnership with our charity, health professional and health company members – is a nationwide survey to gather information about patient and carer experiences of lung cancer care and services. Without doubt, the key to improving patient outcomes is to help us understand what really matters to people living with lung cancer – and how their experience of living with lung cancer could be improved. Wherever appropriate, we want to engage current patients – or the friends and family who care for them – to fill in the survey and tell us what they think. We want their voices to be heard and ultimately reach our goal of helping to double UK lung cancer survival.
The survey is now available on our website and the results will be shared later this year. Please share this link www.uklcc.org.uk.
Dr Mick Peake
- Chair, Clinical Reference Group, UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC)
- Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester
- Clinical Lead, National Cancer Intelligence Network and National Lung Cancer Audit