Terminal breast cancer patients ‘abandoned by NHS trusts’ in nurse shortage

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Thousands of terminal breast cancer patients are being left “abandoned” after being denied access to a specialist nurse, the charity Breast Cancer Care has warned.

According to figures released to coincide with the international awareness day for the disease, almost three quarters (72%) of NHS trusts across the UK do not provide dedicated nurses.

The charity said that there had only been a 7% increase in trusts providing crucial nursing support in the two years since they last looked into the issue.

That comes despite the government’s cancer strategy promising three years ago that all cancer patients would have access to a designated nurse by 2020.

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

“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.”

Ms Al Qadhi called on the government to provide funding to ensure that everyone has access to the specialist support they need, when they need it.

“I never want anyone to feel the isolation I felt following diagnosis.”

Jo Myatt was diagnosed with incurable secondary breast cancer in August 2016.

The 42-year-old social worker, from Chorley, had been diagnosed with primary breast cancer 10 years earlier.

But having undergone years of clear mammograms she was told that the cancer had spread to her liver and bones.

“Following my diagnosis, in the space of a 20-minute consultation, I felt I lost my identity and my future with those I love,” Ms Myatt said.

“Support following my diagnosis was non-existent. There were no specialist or secondary breast care nurses.

Jo Myatt
Jo Myatt (centre) with her parents (Breast Cancer Care/PA)

“I was left completely in the dark, frightened, isolated and devastated.”

Following a change of hospital, Ms Myatt was able to access a specialist breast cancer nurse who has supported her “emotionally as well as physically”.

She is now campaigning to ensure every patient has access to a specialist nurse from the point of diagnosis and given the opportunity to speak to someone with secondary breast cancer.

“I never want anyone to feel the isolation I felt following diagnosis.”

The charity also found that 40% of trusts were unable to state how many breast cancer patients are currently under their care.

Over 70% do not assess people’s emotional and physical needs at diagnosis and throughout their treatment, the figures show.

And 80% do not give all patients a summary at the end of each treatment, including about how they respond to it, the charity said.

There are an estimated 35,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK and each year around 11,500 people die from the disease.

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