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New Macmillan research shows ticking time bomb for Wales cancer nursing workforce

Almost three quarters of specialist breast cancer nurses in Wales are aged 50 or over so many could retire in the next decade, Macmillan Cancer Support reveals in new research of the cancer workforce published today.

Macmillan’s Wales cancer nursing workforce census shows 74 per cent of breast cancer nurses where age was reported are aged 50 or over.

The census also shows that the number of whole time equivalent posts for breast nursing have dropped by 14% since 2014 creating further challenges in the breast cancer workforce in Wales.

The Cancer Workforce in Wales census also shows vacancy rates among specialist cancer nurses appear to have increased since the previous census in 2014.

The rates have risen to 4.4 vacancies per 100 filled roles, taking them higher than the overall UK rate of 3.2 vacancies per 100 filled employee roles for health and social care roles.

Macmillan Wales today warns these high vacancy rates, combined with more than four in 10 of all specialist cancer nurses being aged 50 or over, mean the Welsh cancer nursing workforce is in danger of becoming unsustainable.

This is especially worrying against a backdrop of growing numbers of people living with cancer[vi]. More than 19,000 people being diagnosed in Wales every year.

Richard Pugh, Head of Services (Wales) for Macmillan Cancer Support, said:

“Our census highlights real areas of concern including varied numbers of speciality cancer nurses per new cancer diagnosis, high vacancy rates and the fact that four in 10 of our specialist cancer nurses are aged 50 or over and so many could retire in the next decade.

“However, it’s pleasing the number of specialist cancer nursing posts has increased by more than a third since 2014 as we know from the previous Wales Cancer Patient Experience Surveys that having a clinical nurse specialist has a significantly positive impact on patient experience.

“We want the Welsh Government, health boards and Velindre, and the newly-formed Health Education and Improvement Wales, to analyse the census results to inform their plans and address the clear challenges it highlights urgently.

“That way we can ensure Wales has a skilled, sustainable cancer care workforce to support our growing number of people living with cancer and their often-complex needs.”

The census was completed by all lead cancer nurses working in Wales’s health boards and Velindre NHS Trust to describe the workforce on 9 October last year.

In addition to cancer nurse specialists it included a wider range of roles compared to the previous census covering cancer support workers, specialist chemotherapy nurses and specialist palliative care nurses working in cancer.

The 2017 census shows the number of specialist cancer nurse roles has increased by more than a third (36%) since the 2014 census.

It also shows that a younger workforce is emerging with the percentage of those aged 50 or over dropping by eleven per cent from 53 per cent in 2014 to 42 per cent in 2017. However, this percentage is still higher than the cancer nursing workforce in England.

Read the full report here: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/evidence/research-publications/research-and-evaluation-reports.html