Following a year-long enquiry, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer has launched its report on geographical inequalities in breast cancer.
The report found there are major gaps in the breast cancer workforce with high numbers of vacancies and a mammographic workforce approaching retirement, affecting the health service’s ability to cope with increasing breast cancer incidence among an ageing population.
Worryingly, 13% of breast radiology consultant posts across the UK are currently vacant and 21% of breast radiologists are due to retire in the next five years. A Public Health England survey of the mammography workforce in 2017 found that only 18% of mammography units are adequately resourced. Although there are vacancies across England, the problem is worse in some areas than others. For example, fewer than 10% of mammography posts are vacant in the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, whereas more than a quarter of posts are vacant in the East Midlands.
The inquiry also heard about shortages in the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) workforce. Women with breast cancer gave evidence to the inquiry about the positive impact a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) can have on their care. Whether a woman is offered the support of a specialist nurse may depend on where she lives, and this is particularly the case for women with secondary breast cancer.
Eleanor, a secondary breast cancer patient from Kent, explained:
“I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer in 2001 and with secondary breast cancer in February 2008. Initially I didn’t have a secondary clinical nurse specialist but when my care was moved to a different hospital I met one for the first time. She transformed my experience of the disease and treatment, making the whole thing bearable. Whenever possible she has been present at key appointments, staying behind for as long as necessary to ensure I fully understand what is happening. She is always available over the phone and by email, coordinating my care.
“My Clinical Nurse Specialist “gets me” because she has seen me through so much. The problem is that there is only one of her, and if she’s in with me she can’t be with someone else. Her priority must be that if someone is being given a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer she should be there.”
What can be done?
- The report recommends that each Cancer Alliance (local bodies in charge of coordinating cancer services across England) should publish a workforce plan to deliver the national Cancer Strategy for England, and set out the funding they require to fill vacant posts.
- Health Education England, the organisation responsible for the NHS workforce, should publish its plan to ensure the breast cancer workforce is sustainable in the long term.
- All breast cancer patients should have access to a Clinical Nurse Specialist, and Health Education England and the Royal College of Nursing should work together to ensure there are enough specialist nurses to care for cancer patients in each local area.
How can you help?
You can contact your MP now and ask them to write to the local bodies responsible for publishing a workforce plan for your area.