Unrelenting NHS pressure affecting cancer care, say GPs and nurses

CREDIT: This story was first seen in OnMedica

OnMedica reports that more than half of GPs and nurses working in UK primary care say they’re not confident that the NHS workforce is able to provide cancer patients with adequate care because of the pressures it’s currently facing, according to the latest report from Macmillan Cancer Support.

The charity has called on governments and NHS bodies to take a strategic and long-term approach to workforce planning that considers the impact of the changing needs of cancer patients on workforce design.

Macmillan commissioned nfpSynergy to survey GPs and nurses working in primary care across the UK, during May and June this year, and 154 GPs and 103 nurses responded. Macmillan also conducted a separate online survey, between May and July, of 51 Macmillan GPs (practising GPs who devote an average of one day per week to work with Macmillan) and 62 Macmillan professionals (who work in a variety of roles supporting people with cancer).

Its report From the Frontline reveals that, given current pressures, there are significant concerns about whether the workforce can continue to deliver high quality care to people with cancer. This was clear among GPs and nurses working in primary care, with more than half (52%) of respondents saying that they are not confident in the NHS’s ability to provide adequate care for people with cancer. It also found that:

  • Over a third (37%) of GPs and nurses in the nfpSynergy survey said existing workforce pressures meant that some cancer patients are attending A&E because they can’t get help elsewhere.
  • 44% of GPs and nurses surveyed said pressures meant cancer patients were not always being treated as early as they should be.
  • Nearly a third (31%) also reported that cancer patients do not have the support they need to regain a good quality of life after treatment because of pressures affecting the NHS workforce.

The report’s authors said: “Communication was a key theme, both within cancer care teams, but also between primary and secondary care. It was felt that better communication could help combat fragmentation of care, save time, and ensure that people with cancer know where to get support.”

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GPs and nurses warned that bigger workloads, increasingly complex patient needs, and vacancies in key roles are creating ‘unrelenting pressure’ on cancer care workforce. Macmillan is urging government across the UK to address these significant pressures and set out an ambitious vision to ensure that the NHS cancer workforce is equipped to meet future challenges. It said: “It is vital that governments and NHS bodies across the UK take a strategic and long-term approach to workforce planning which considers the impact of the changing needs of cancer patients on workforce design.”

Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, pointed out that despite intense workload and workforce pressure in general practice, GPs and their teams do everything they can not to let these challenges compromise patient care, and over the past five years the proportion of cancers diagnosed as an emergency has fallen from 25% to 20%.

But she said: “Today’s figures should be a wake-up call  … We desperately need the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View – including £2.4 billion extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs – to be delivered in full and as a matter of urgency. But we also need better access to new and improved diagnostic tools that can help GPs identify cancers that are more difficult to spot.

“Cancer is an enduring priority for the College, and we have worked with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan to develop resources to support GPs and our teams to deliver the care our patients with cancer need and deserve, at every stage of their illness.”

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