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Terminal breast cancer patients denied specialist nurses

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Alice Sanderson, October 19, 2018

Figures released by Breast Cancer Care this week show that 72% of NHS trusts in the UK are denying access to dedicated specialist nurses for patients with incurable breast cancer.

This is despite a promise by the government three years ago that by 2020 all cancer patients would have access to a dedicated nurse.

Disappointing data

The data was collected by the charity using freedom of information requests on NHS health trusts across the UK.

Their chief executive, Samia al Qadhi, hit out at the deterioration in patient care.

She said: “Our staggering figures reveal just how much NHS nursing care for people with incurable breast cancer has stagnated.

"After this life-changing diagnosis, patients continue to be abandoned without ongoing specialist support they need to manage complex treatment and debilitating side effects, like chronic pain and fatigue."

In response, the Department of Health has said that the government is ‘committed to increasing the capacity of specialist cancer nurses’.

Secondary breast cancer

Across the UK there are an estimated 35,000 patients with stage four breast cancer (also known as secondary, metastatic or advanced breast cancer), with around 111,500 dying each year from the disease.

Life expectancy varies for these patients, but more people are living longer after their diagnosis thanks to improvements in treatments, which makes specialist care even more essential.

Some secondary breast cancer patients will have a dedicated nurse, whilst others may have a nurse whose time is split between primary and secondary breast cancer patients.

Response to the report

Breast Cancer Care’s chief executive Samia al Qadhi said: "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.

"Today's failings must not be swept under the carpet. We are calling on the government to create a secondary support package for incurable breast cancer."

An NHS spokesperson responded by saying: "Everyone with cancer is unique and patients themselves say their experience of being looked after is getting better every year - which makes sense as your chance of surviving cancer is now at its highest ever."

Andrew Cullwick, spokesperson for First4Lawyers said: “While it is great news that survival rates for cancer are now at their highest ever, the data gathered by Breast Cancer Care shows that more could be done to help patients through an unimaginable time.

We support Breast Cancer Care in their calls to the government to create a secondary support package, and we hope that this important issue is not ignored.”