• Study suggests patients undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy have a lower risk of early death when cared for by a specialist nurse
  • Research claims patients with lung cancer nurse specialist care had less chance of being admitted to hospital unnecessarily
  • Researchers warn government’s workforce strategy faces significant challenges posed by a lack of a substantial specialist cancer workforce

Specialist nurses have been found to be “fundamental” in increasing the life expectancy of patients with lung cancer, HSJ has been told.

Research being carried out by The University of Nottingham and London South Bank University has suggested that patients experience better outcomes in terms of life expectancy, avoiding unnecessary admissions and managing the effects of treatment when cared for by specialist lung cancer nurses.

It comes as NHS Improvement and Health Education England are reviewing the role of specialist nurses and have published new guidance on advanced practice roles.

The findings have not yet been published or peer reviewed, but have been presented at the national cancer registration and analysis service conference on 21 June. Researchers analysed more than 100,000 people with lung cancer and surveyed more than 200 nurses across England between 2007 and 2011.

The team behind the work believes that radiotherapy and chemotherapy patients have “a lower risk of early death or emergency admission once they have received an assessment and care from a lung cancer specialist”, particularly if the specialist care is started at the time of diagnosis.

It also suggested that patients receiving radiotherapy treatment were 17 per cent less likely to die within a year when assessed by a lung cancer nurse specialist than those not assessed by one.

Chemotherapy patients also had “reduced mortality risk” where nurses reported confidence in working with multidisciplinary teams, the research suggests.

Alison Leary, chair of healthcare workforce modelling, London South Bank University claimed the research showed receiving care from a lung nurse specialist was fundamental to better outcomes for patients and families.

“This work shows the real tangible benefit of advanced practice nursing in cancer,” Professor Leary argued. “Patients with lung cancer nurse specialists not only had a lower risk of dying, but also had a lower risk of being admitted to hospital unnecessarily.”

When announcing its funding plan for the NHS last month, the government said it wanted to improve cancer care “so that patient outcomes move towards the very best in Europe”.

Vanessa Beattie, chair of the national lung cancer forum for nurses added that an increase in the lung cancer nurse specialist workforce is required in order to deliver the “high quality care” that is reflected in the research.

The researchers said the findings of this study could provide an “evidence base for workforce policies governing delivery of the government’s cancer strategy for the UK”.

They added: “The strategy currently faces significant challenges”.

This follows new analysis from the Royal College of Radiologists who estimated a shortfall of approximately 250 full time consultant clinical oncologists by 2022. The college has urged the government to fund more places for clinical oncologists.