Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Why we need more cancer nurses to help our patients

Heather Monteverde wants Stormont to ensure Macmillan specialist support is available to everyone who requires it

When I was told I had cancer, my world just fell apart. I had so many questions and fears but at least I knew where to turn. Without my cancer nurse specialist I would have been totally lost.

These are sentiments that we at Macmillan frequently hear from cancer patients who have had one of these specialists assigned to their case at the time they are diagnosed.

The stark reality is that one in three people will receive a cancer diagnosis. That means that this scenario is one that you may well have experienced in some capacity, either as a patient, carer, family member or friend. So you'll understand that having someone who can answer questions, to reassure and to give direction on what support is available is a tremendous help.

However, following the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis, this support is not necessarily available to everyone.

Some families will struggle on, unaware that expert cancer information and financial support is available to them - if only they knew where to look.

Macmillan believes that everyone living with cancer, regardless of where they live or the type of cancer they have, should have access to the best clinical, emotional, financial and practical help.

This is why we believe everyone who is newly diagnosed with cancer should be introduced to a clinical nurse specialist, such as a Macmillan nurse. Nurses like these are responsible for co-ordinating patient care and are a guiding beacon to other support services when patients and their families are often anxious, confused and frightened.

These nurses are also the key to a more efficient service.

Their involvement, for example, could mean that patients may spend less unplanned time in hospital and essentially, in the long run, investment in these services will save our stretched health services money.

For all these reasons, we are calling on the next Northern Ireland Assembly to invest in clinical nurse specialists so that no one is left to cope alone with the consequences of this disease.

We also want to continue to work with the Assembly to ensure there is a system in place that lets patient know that support is available.

In the last three years, Macmillan has invested £11m in services to support cancer patients and their families in Northern Ireland. However, there are 55,000 people living with cancer in Northern Ireland and due to screening, earlier diagnosis, better treatment and an ageing population, this number is growing by 3% a year.

The job to revolutionise cancer services is therefore significant and one that will require collaboration from health providers, the charity sector and, of course, the Assembly. The needs of this growing population will not have escaped the notice of our politicians who will soon be campaigning in advance of the Assembly elections in May. Indeed, we expect to see many of them at an event at Stormont this evening to mark Macmillan's centenary year.

In the last 100 years, Macmillan has continued to build on experience by listening to patients and their families, then raising money to establish groundbreaking new services when they have been needed.

Since I became a clinical nurse specialist in the 1986 - I was Northern Ireland's first breast care nurse - I have seen the dramatic improvements in clinical treatments. However, there has been far less consideration given to how we ensure that these cancer survivors go on to have a good quality of life. This is unacceptable and must change. The cancer care system must move with the times to meet demands - the lives of cancer patients and their families depend on it.

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