The prostate cancer specialist nursing workforce is facing a bleak and uncertain future if urgent action is not taken, according to new research commissioned by Prostate Cancer UK and undertaken with support from the British Association of Urological Nurses (BAUN).
In a survey of just under 300 specialist nurses working with men affected by prostate cancer, conducted for Prostate Cancer UK by Plymouth University, London South Bank University and Mouchel, almost half (49 per cent) reported that they were approaching retirement or intending to leave nursing within the next ten years. But with no clear plans for training a new workforce and prostate cancer predicted to become the most common cancer overall by 2030, patients face a future without the experience and expertise these nurses offer.
The crisis looms against a range of existing challenges which are already putting the current workforce under extreme pressure. Insufficient, variable specialist nursing provision and sometimes huge caseloads, plus a lack of administrative support, are already leading to some core elements of care, such as holistic needs assessments, being missed.
Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer UK said: “We know from the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey that men with prostate cancer who have access to a Clinical Nurse Specialist report better experiences of care. They often tell us that the support they receive from specialist nurses is crucial in helping them to overcome a wide range of issues including life changing side effects. The support these nurses provide is undeniably vital but our report shows a stark future where this treasure house of experience and expertise is lost and not replenished.
“Nurses are telling us that they are over-stretched beyond belief, they feel undervalued and they simply don’t have time to give every patient the dedicated support and care he needs. Couple this with the fact that a significant chunk of the workforce is soon retiring – as incidence rates for prostate cancer are expected to rise – and the picture becomes even bleaker.”
The development of new opportunities for entry level nurses to entice new talent, and leadership positions to retain existing talent, will be key
The report also reveals that while many nurses have an appetite for further career development, they find their path blocked. Obstacles to their education include limited funding, heavy workloads, and lack of study leave. Restricted opportunities for progression into leadership roles emerge as another key concern, as well as there being too few development posts for the next generation of specialist cancer nurses.
Philippa Aslet, President of BAUN during the study said: “With prostate cancer on course to become the most common cancer by 2030, there is an ever growing need for more prostate cancer specialist nurses.
“However the current workforce is under tremendous pressure and as a result of incredibly high workloads, we’re seeing some essential aspects of care drop off in many centres. If we’re going to retain our existing nurses, they need more support and there is a clear need for increased investment into the workforce. It’s great to see a real ambition amongst nurses for further development but again workload or lack of funding means that these opportunities currently aren’t available to them. We’d like to see this change.”
The report was conducted by Professor Alison Leary from London South Bank University. Professor Leary commented: “Findings suggest that care for the needs of men diagnosed with prostate cancer could be put in jeopardy as a result of an over-stretched, under-valued and diminishing nursing staff. Urgent attention needs to be given to strategic workforce planning to develop expertise and ensure that the workforce is a sustainable one. The development of new opportunities for both entry level nurses to entice new talent, and leadership positions to retain existing talent, will be key in this."
Owen Sharp added: “Every man diagnosed with prostate cancer, no matter where they live, should have access to a nurse with specialist knowledge and training in prostate cancer care. But for this to happen, we need prompt, decisive action.
“We are calling on Chief Nursing Officers and local providers across the UK to take a long hard look at their urology nursing workforce. There’s still time to avert this crisis if they act now – put new incentives in place to retain the excellent workforce that currently exists, enable them to do the jobs they are trained to do, and get a training programme up and running so new nurses start to come through.”