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Why National Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist Day is important and the impact education and support will have on improving oncology care

This year marks the third anniversary of National Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist Day (CNS) day - on Friday, 15 March, 2024 - and it's been remarkable to see how this awareness day has grown. 

The first National Cancer CNS Day in 2022 was led by the Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance with the support of Health Education England, Macmillan, UK Oncology Nurses Society and the Royal College of Nursing. 

These organisations recognised that nearly 30% of the specialist cancer nurse workforce was due to retire in the next 10 years and that, by 2030, an estimated 3.3 million people will be living with cancer. 

Unprecedented demand for specialist cancer nurses is expected

With the number of people being diagnosed with cancer rising and with better outcomes due to advances in treatment, there will be an unprecedented demand for cancer CNSs and it’s vital that greater investment and support is provided to the current and future workforce now. 

For example, targeted lung health screening was implemented in a number of regions in 2022 and more than one million people have now been invited for a health check.  Targeted lung health checks will provide lung cancer nurse specialists with an opportunity to support people much earlier on their pathway following a lung cancer diagnosis providing improved patient care. However, it will also increase their workload in relation to co-ordinating care and treatment for a longer period than ever before. 

Why CNSs are so important

Cancer CNSs are an important part of the clinical pathway for anyone diagnosed with cancer and their families and are unique in relation to the care and support they provide.  

They have specialist training to be able to signpost patients, provide treatment and advice and liaise with other healthcare professionals. 

National Cancer CNS Day is a positive way to celebrate the workforce and also, importantly, helps to raise awareness and to bring to everyone’s attention that investment in the workforce is needed now.

How education and support for CNSs improves patient care

It's already recognised internationally that education for cancer CNSs and sharing best practice and innovation leads to better outcomes for patients. 

It's also well established that every patient’s journey is different following a cancer diagnosis and the health inequalities across the UK due to ethnicity, poverty, gender, and geographical region all impact on a patient’s pathway following a diagnosis. 

Cancer CNSs will often be required to find new ways to support these patients and ensure they are able to access the treatment and support they need over a much longer period than they have ever done before. 

To assist cancer CNSs in supporting all patients equitably, they need to be able to access education and participate in research and other training events to continue to develop their specialist skills and knowledge. 

Unfortunately, it's difficult for many nurses to find funding to attend courses and take the time out of busy clinics due to the current pressures on the workforce. 

Access to funds and more time must be found for the cancer CNS workforce to be able to participate in education and receive support from their peers in order to continue to make a positive difference for all people living with cancer. 

How can we help to make a difference? 

My mother was a nurse for over 30 years and in her later years qualified as an advanced nurse practitioner. She often spoke to me about the importance of continuing education, sharing ideas and new ways of working with colleagues and the difference that it can have on a day-to-day basis. I’ve always sought to do the same and have provided training and education to others. 

Last year, I also had the opportunity to volunteer to be a trustee for Lung Cancer Nursing UK (LCNUK). LCNUK is a charity that's focused on providing nurses who specialise in the treatment of patients with lung cancer or mesothelioma with support, education, networking opportunities and a national voice on clinical and strategic issues for specialist nurses. 

I find it really rewarding to be able to donate my time to a charity that is providing education and support to the future cancer CNS workforce and, importantly, helping to continue to improve outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer now and in the future. 

I asked Karen Clayton, the chair of the LCNUK Committee why she considers the support that the charity provides is important.

She responded: "Lung Cancer Nursing UK provides education and peer to peer support for lung cancer clinical nurse specialists (CNS) throughout the United Kingdom. With the ever-changing landscape of cancer care it is imperative that lung cancer nurses are up to date with best practice and new treatment paradigms. 

“Patient and carers deserve and expect guidance through a very difficult pathway and therefore the CNSs need to have expert knowledge. Lung Cancer Nursing UK provides educational material in alternative formats from the annual conference to face to face bespoke study days and webinars on different subjects in order to provide holistic care.” 

Many other charities also help to provide education and support to the nursing workforce and, if you have five or 10 minutes on National Cancer CNS day, I would recommend that you find out how you can make a difference too. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by cancer at our dedicated personal injury section

The following charities have more information about how to support the Cancer CNS workforce: Lung Cancer Nursing UK, Mesothelioma UKMacmillan Cancer Support, UK Oncology Nurses Society, Royal College of Nursing.