Everyone should have a lung cancer nurse specialist

Lung cancer nurse specialists provide a vital role in caring for lung cancer patients and their families – yet they are often overstretched and their roles are being squeezed.

The role of the lung cancer nurse specialist changed significantly after the publication of the Calman Hine Report in 1995, which urged cancer services to become more patient focused and more organised.

Today, nurse specialists are engaged in the various stages of lung cancer patient experience.  Some meet patients at the point of a suspected lung cancer diagnosis – providing patients with valuable support and information at an early stage, as well as a consistent point of contact through what is an incredibly stressful and uncertain time. Some nurses are very visible throughout the treatment phase – while others focus on end of life care.

However, regardless of where in the patient journey the nurse specialist is tasked, the most significant part of their job is acting as the patient’s advocate.  The lung cancer nurse specialist is pivotal in representing the needs of patients at key multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings as well as within the wider community team.

Sadly not every lung cancer patient has access to a lung cancer specialist nurse. According to the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC), there is only one lung cancer specialist nurse (in England) for every 122 people diagnosed – and lung cancer has the second lowest provision of cancer nurse specialists in the country. This can present major challenges as nurse specialists strive to provide quality information and support to newly diagnosed and existing patients.

The value of the lung cancer specialist nurse is unarguable. Recent research has shown that, where patients are seen by a lung cancer nurse specialist within a fully-functioning multidisciplinary team (MDT), patients are more likely to have a good experience of care and this can often lead to better patient outcomes.  

Indeed, the lung cancer nurse is often instrumental in mobilising community services and is often involved with symptom management whilst the patient is undergoing tests.  Regular telephone contact between the nurse specialist and the patient can help alleviate some of the anxiety in the treatment process.  The lung cancer nurse specialist can also ensure that any further changes in care can be put in place prior to the involvement of the oncology or surgical team.  This can optimise the patient’s chance of being considered for active treatment.  Nurse specialists are also often vital in providing good quality follow-up clinics. 

Yet lung cancer nurse specialists do not always receive the support and recognition they deserve – and there is a shortage of this valuable resource across the country.  We need to put pressure on those who have influence to ensure the role of lung cancer nurse specialists is maintained and protected.      

Naomi Horne
Macmillan Lead Lung Cancer Nurse, Llandough Hospital