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Research suggests older lung cancer patients are less likely to access specialist nursing care

A new research study into lung cancer care, co-written by LSBU's Prof. Alison Leary, confirms an association between access to specialist nursing and cancer treatment
03 May 2016

A new study of lung cancer patients has found that those over the age of 75 are less likely to receive an assessment from a lung cancer specialist nurse, in spite of NICE guidelines calling for direct, personal access to specialist lung cancer nurses for every person diagnosed with the disease.

A team of academics including Professor Alison Leary from London South Bank University (LSBU)’s School of Health and Social Care, looked at the records of 128,124 lung cancer patients in England over a four year period.

The research, initially published in the journal Lung Cancer and funded by Dimbleby Cancer Care, reveals wide variations in access to lung cancer specialist nurses among different patients and in contrasting healthcare settings. The findings indicate that there is potential unmet need for lung cancer specialist nurses, who comprise only 11% of the Cancer Nurse Specialists in England, though lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK.

The study cross-referenced patient access to lung cancer specialist nurses with a range of healthcare factors, including patient age, stage of disease, referral route, timing of diagnosis, treatment method, trust size and the level of seniority among nursing staff. 

Key findings from the study include:

  • A clear association between the age of patients and the likelihood of receiving an assessment by a lung cancer specialist nurse, with those over the age of 75 significantly less likely to be assessed than those aged 65 and under.
  • Patients twice as likely to have been assessed in trusts where the majority of work is done by band 8 nurses, compared to bands 6 and 7.
  • Patients referred by an emergency route 57% less likely to receive an assessment, compared to those referred by a GP.
  • Patients first seen in Trusts with an annual lung cancer caseload of ≥ 265 were less likely to be assessed compared with smaller trusts.

Alison Leary, Professor of Healthcare Modelling at LSBU, commented: “Lung Cancer Nurse Specialists play a vitally important role in the case management of lung cancer patients. The specialist care they provide is proven to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and doctor consultations, and improve patient satisfaction.

“It may be of concern that there is potential unmet need for specialist nurse assessment among some patients, as flagged by this study. To meet the needs of all people with lung cancer it is therefore vital to expand the current lung cancer specialist nurse workforce, and to ensure that experienced professionals are retained as an integral part of patient care teams.”