Plea for more specialist lung cancer nurses

A call from a lung cancer nurse is something nobody ever wants to receive. But the alternative means facing Australia’s deadliest cancer without dedicated support. Sadly, for thousands of Australian’s, that’s the reality. There are just 12 lung cancer nurses for the 12,700 people diagnosed every year. That’s less than one nurse per 1000 patients.

The Lung Foundation charity is calling on the Australian Government to help in the next budget.

“It’s time to give Australians living with lung cancer a fair go,” Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mark Brooke said.

In comparison, there are 40 nurses nationwide for prostate cancer patients. While a total of 16,700 men are told they have that disease every year, it has a much higher survival rate. Lung cancer kills triple the number of people – almost 9000 annually. It’s expected almost 20,000 Aussies will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. There are around 400 dedicated breast cancer nurses. However, lung cancer kills more woman every year than breast and ovarian cancer combined.

The Advanced Practice Lung Cancer Nurse Consultant calls patients across Victoria when they’re suspected to have, or have just been diagnosed with the disease. Ms Duffy, who is based at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, says they’re “bewildered, overwhelmed and upset” at what they’re facing. However, Ms Duffy and other nurses are able to provide constant support and information either in person at cancer clinics, or on the phone.

“People say ‘I don’t understand what’s going on, what’s happening,” she told” I say to them; ‘My job is to help you make sense, and enter this world you’ve never been in before.’

“There’s good evidence in the NHS in the UK that shows that lung cancer nurses actually improve lung cancer outcomes for patients.”

South Australian grandma, Sandy Sampson, 66, said she couldn’t imagine not having a dedicated person to contact when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She thought she had the flu in 2011. But the diagnosis was far worse. Luckily, she was given access to Perth’s only dedicated lung cancer nurse, as she was living in the city. She said they were always on the end of the phone to help not only her, but her family, too, especially after medical appointments.

“Knowing someone was there to say ‘this is what he means’ or ‘this is what we want to do’,” she said. “I think if I didn’t have that, we all go to a dark place when we’re diagnosed, I can understand people maybe even going to an even darker place. My feeling as a cancer patient, no matter what kind of cancer you have it should be equal. We all go through the same thing.”

Mrs Sampson – who like many patients has never smoked – has had her right lung removed and also has cancer in her liver, but for now, she’s doing okay.

The Lung Foundation tabled a government petition last month to ask for urgent cash to fund more nurses. Lung Foundation Australia Chair and leading respiratory physician Professor Christine Jenkins AM said lung cancer has continually missed out on funding given to breast and prostate cancer.

“There’s no reason why lung cancer patients shouldn’t receive the same care and support,” Prof Jenkins said. “Australia is lagging behind many other nations in the delivery of best-practice clinical care for lung cancer patients.”

“The Australian Government’s health department told it “appreciates the concerns” raised by Lung Foundation Australia over specialist nurses. “The Government receives requests to support a variety of different cancer nurses,” it said. “Unfortunately, it is not always possible to meet all of these requests. Further investment in this area will be guided by demand, clinical best practice and ensuring such investment integrates with the wider nursing workforce, which is predominantly the domain of the states and territories,” it said.

“To help address this issue the Australian Government has committed to the development of a National Nursing Strategy which will provide opportunities to further consider the role of nurses (including cancer nurses), noting the importance of providing patient-centred care within the multi-disciplinary cancer care team.”

Lung cancer kills more Australians than any other cancer, ahead of breast, prostate and ovarian cancers. In 2016, 8410 Australians died from lung cancer. This year it’s expected to kill more than 9100 Cancer Australia says. One in three women and one in 10 men diagnosed have never smoked, according to the Lung Foundation Australia.

This article was originally published on The 9 News website by Sarah Swain on 6/7/2020.