Cancer patients ‘missing out on basic information’

Author: Mark Gould

Cancer patients say they are missing out on basic information about their disease, such as treatment and side effects, because the NHS is so short staffed.

Macmillan Cancer Support asked more than 70,000 people who have undergone cancer treatment in England about their care.

More than a third (39%) said the longer-term side effects of treatment were not fully explained - the charity said that equated to about 120,000 patients across England every year.

A quarter of people – over 80,00 people a year- also said they did not have the possible side effects explained prior to the start of treatment.

And one in five – almost 60,000 people a year - said there were not always enough nurses on duty to care for them due to wider pressures across the NHS.

The survey also found:

  • Around one in eight (13%) people recently treated for cancer in England – around 41,000 people a year - were either not given the name of a clinical nurse specialist who could support them, or found them difficult to contact1
  • More than one in five (22%) – almost 69,000 people a year - were either not given written information about the type of cancer they had at the time of their diagnosis, or found it difficult to understand
  • Around one in 14 (7%) – around 23,000 people a year – were not given clear written information on what they should or shouldn’t do after leaving hospital following an operation or an overnight stay
  • Around one in five people say the healthcare professionals who cared for them seemed to have unmanageable workloads

Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive, Lynda Thomas, commented:  “We know staff desperately want to provide a listening ear or a hand to hold, but with understaffed wards and a shortage of specialist cancer nurses, it’s hardly surprising that patients will feel left in the dark – sometimes even when it comes to the critical information about their disease.

“The staffing crisis is eating away at the very core of our NHS and patients and staff deserve better. Only a clear plan to grow and train the cancer workforce will help us escape this downwards spiral.”

An NHS England spokesman said cancer survival rates and patient satisfaction levels with their cancer care were at record highs

The "vast majority of patients were given the name of a clinical nurse specialist to support them through their treatment, which is testament to the hard work and compassion of NHS staff", they added.

  1. As per ref xii. Of the 73,817 respondents to the 2018 Cancer Patient Experience Survey, 6,037 were not given the name of a clinical nurse specialist, and 3,739 said they were given the name of a clinical nurse specialist but said they tried to contact their clinical nurse specialist but found it quite or very difficult to contact them. Analysis based on all survey respondents and not just those who answered these questions. This was extrapolated onto those who received a first cancer treatment according to the Cancer Waiting Times Data in December 2018 to November 2019.