The number of specialist adult cancer nurses has reached an all time high, with over 3,000 posts in the NHS, but Macmillan Cancer Support has warned against any complacency as the number is set to decline as many approach retirement.

The charity has funded a census of the cancer nurse population in the UK, which shows that in the last three years, 283 more specialists are now working in hospitals. The data, which were taken from almost all (97%) hospitals in the country, revealed that 79% of new posts since 2011 are filled by Macmillan nurses.

However, the report warns that the financial strain on the health service means it is not increasing the number of NHS cancer nurses fast enough. Also one in three nurses are aged 50 or over and will be retiring in the next five to 10 years and in certain parts of the country,this rises to half of all cancer nurses.

10% still have no specialist nurse

 Macmillan chief executive Ciaran Devane said it is really “encouraging that the number of specialist cancer nurses in England is keeping pace with the rapidly growing numbers of people diagnosed with cancer, but not so good that 10% of cancer patients don't have a specialist nurse”.

He cited research from an NHS England survey earlier this year which noted that having access to one of these cancer nurses “is the one most important factor in making sure patients feel treated as human beings, supported and engaged in their care, rather than just a set of symptoms”.

Mr Devane added that “this is no time for complacency. The number of people living with cancer will double from two to four million by 20307 and many of these people will not just have cancer but a number of complex conditions. At the same time, we are faced with an ageing workforce with worrying numbers soon to retire”.
He concluded by saying “it will be a huge challenge for charities, decision-makers in the NHS and politicians alike to make sure that the NHS cancer workforce is equipped, supported and flexible enough to manage this daunting change”.