Breast cancer patients ‘abandoned’ amid nurse shortage

Thousands of incurable breast cancer patients are left "abandoned" as they are denied a dedicated specialist nurse, new figures have revealed.

A Freedom of Information request by charity Breast Cancer Care showed that almost three quarters – 72% – of NHS trusts and health boards in England, Scotland and Wales do not provide a dedicated nurse to patients.

The charity said there had only been a 7% increase in health bodies providing the crucial nursing care in the two years since it last looked into the issue.

The latest figures come three years after the government's cancer strategy promised all cancer patients access to a designated nurse by 2020.

Breast Cancer Care chief executive Samia al Qadhi said: "Our staggering findings reveal just how much NHS nursing care for people with incurable breast cancer has stagnated.

Video: Actress Liz Hurley promotes awareness of breast cancer research.

"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."

The charity is now calling for urgent funding to be made available to recruit and train nurses.

Jo Myatt, who was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer in more than two years ago, has been campaigning for more dedicated nurses.

"I was told I had incurable breast cancer by a GP on a Friday evening, and sent home with no information or numbers to call, or any idea about what was to come," said the 42-year-old from Chorley. "After being given such a devastating diagnosis, the support I received was non-existent. I felt totally written-off.

"I was totally overwhelmed and mourning the future I'd never have and yet had no dedicated nurse, that person to contact for emotional support, or to guide me through my long list of questions about available treatments and the side effects that I would experience.

"It's incredibly disappointing to see such a lack of progress in getting people with incurable breast cancer – like me – the nursing support we so urgently need."

The study is thought to be the largest breast cancer treatment trial ever
Image: 70% of bodies did not assess emotional and physical needs at diagnosis and beyond

The charity also found that 40% of the UK's health bodies were unable to say how many patients with secondary breast cancer – breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body – were under their care.

Some 70% of organisations did not assess people's emotional and physical needs at diagnosis and beyond, according to the figures.

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And 80% of hospital bodies did not give all patients a summary at the end of each treatment, which includes how they have responded to the treatment.

Sky News has contacted the Department for Health for comment.

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