Scotland needs to train hundreds of specialist cancer nurses by the end of the decade to avoid a “timebomb” crisis in care, a charity has warned.
Nearly half of the current workforce could retire by 2030, while the number of new cancer diagnoses could reach more than 46,000 per year by then, a jump of almost a quarter (23%) on 2018, said Macmillan Cancer Support.
The charity’s research suggests nearly 350 new cancer nurses need to be trained by the end of the decade to ensure people with cancer get the right care and support.
Macmillan’s head of services in Scotland, Janice Preston, said the country is facing a “perfect storm” of soaring numbers of people with cancer, experienced nurses retiring, and an already over-stretched workforce.
She said: “Our research shows that already, too many people with cancer in Scotland aren’t getting the support they need from highly dedicated but over-worked cancer nurse specialists who are, in many cases, faced with an impossible task.
“Cancer nurse specialists aren’t luxuries. They’re an essential part of the cancer care system and research shows they make a significant difference to how patients cope with the physical and emotional impact of their illness and treatment.”
Some 182 cancer nurses – 45% of the current workforce – will be around retirement age by 2030, the charity said.
Kimberley Forsyth, from Aberdeen, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last October, said: “I don’t know how I’d have coped without my nurse”, adding the healthcare professional prepared her “when I was thrown into fertility clinics, MRI machines and biopsies”.
The 39-year-old said: “I couldn’t take anyone in with me to my appointments because of the pandemic, so she was my support from the very beginning.
“It would have been awful and very lonely without my nurse.
“Her knowledge, experience and kindness made all the difference in my care.
“I can’t imagine how lonely and frightening going through cancer would be for someone who didn’t have a nurse, especially if they didn’t have family around them or know how to go online to find information.”
Polling for Macmillan has found one in four people diagnosed with cancer in Scotland in the past five years said they lacked specialist nursing support, with one in ten suffering a serious medical implication as a result, including not knowing if they were taking their medication correctly.
Across the UK, people without specialist nursing support were “considerably more likely to experience depression or anxiety related to their cancer diagnosis, doubts about whether it was worth having their treatment, or even suicidal thoughts”, the charity said.