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Celebrating National Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist Day in 2023

Following a diagnosis of cancer, one of the first healthcare professionals that a patient will meet will be a cancer nurse specialist (CNS).

The CNS, together with other healthcare professionals, will play a key role in a patient’s pathway and provide invaluable care and support to the patient and their family as they navigate multiple investigations, diagnosis and treatment.

The role of the CNS in supporting patients

It is very difficult to summarise their complex and often challenging roles but some of the support that the CNS offers includes the following:

  • Skilled and personalised advice and support following a diagnosis of cancer, not only for the patient but also for the patient’s family;
  • Assessment of a patient’s needs and signposting to a wide variety of services;
  • The provision of information in relation to treatment and guidance to assist in making appropriate clinical choices, dependent upon the patient’s particular circumstances;
  • Actively managing a patient’s pathway;
  • Liaising with other healthcare professionals to manage treatment and care.

The importance of the CNS role

The importance of the role is demonstrated through the fact that one in every two people in the UK will be told that they have cancer at some point in their lives and, on average, someone is diagnosed with cancer every 90 seconds in England, thus needing to seek the support of a CNS.

As the Royal College of Nursing points out, cancer nursing is about much more than palliative care, with a greater range of complex treatments available to patients than ever before.

In order to meet the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, many cancer nurse specialists have had to focus on working together and maximising NHS resources to ensure those who were clinically urgent received the treatment and care needed.

It has undoubtedly been a challenging time for cancer nurse specialists and although the UK government has pledged to expand the cancer workforce, recruitment has not kept pace with the increasing demand for cancer services.

According to the Royal College of Nursing, it is estimated that 30% of the specialist cancer nurse workforce will be retiring within the next ten years, while the number of patients requiring their care increases. To bridge the gap, the number of cancer clinical nurse specialists will have to increase by 100% in the next eight years.

Last year, the government announced the start of a new 10 year Cancer Plan for England which will end in 2032. The plan includes raising awareness of various cancer types and causes, new goals and targets to reduce waiting times for diagnosis and treatment as well as much needed investment in cancer services and care. It is expected that the CNS will play a pivotal role in delivering many of the aims of the plans.

In my role as a specialist mesothelioma solicitor, I frequently witness first hand through my clients the invaluable care and support that the CNS provides. They help patients with a wide range of queries and often this is for a significant period of time, not just months but years.

I have the privilege of being able to regularly attend a local asbestos support group, READLEY, where there is always at least one CNS in attendance to support and advise the patients. Patients frequently tell me how important their lung cancer nurse specialist is to them.

National Cancer Nurse Specialist Day 

Last year was the first time that an awareness day took place for cancer nurses specialists but celebrating the importance of the CNS on this day and thanking all of them for their hard work, outstanding care, professionalism and complete dedication are feelings shared by me, my colleagues and many of our clients, as well as other patients that I meet at local support groups.

When speaking to Leah Taylor (pictured below), who is a lung cancer and mesothelioma nurse specialist and Head of Nursing at Mesothelioma UK, I asked her to share with me the best part about being a CNS.

She commented: “It's hard to pick out just one good thing about being a CNS as there are so many amazing parts of this role. I think for me it's the privilege of being alongside people affected by mesothelioma and helping them to navigate this devastating and complex disease."

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by mesothelioma and other diseases at the dedicated section on our website.