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Cancer patients ‘aren’t getting enough emotional support’

Charity says there aren’t enough NHS staff to meet demand

Cancer patients are not receiving enough support from NHS doctors and nurses, a charity has said.

It comes after calls to the Macmillan Support Line reached more than 240,000 in 2019.

The charity supported more than 65,000 people — 7% more people than in 2018 and 14% more than in 2017.

The number one reason callers contacted Macmillan was for emotional support, with 20% more people calling with issues such as anxiety, fear and depression than the previous year.

Lynda Thomas, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said many people call at breaking point having struggled to find the support they need from their healthcare team.

“NHS staff do an extraordinary job faced with huge pressures, but as increased demand for our services shows, there simply aren’t enough of them to meet the needs of the growing number of people living with cancer,” she warned.

For more than 5,000 people, issues with accessing hospital or community care were the main reason they called — the second most common reason for calling after emotional support. This includes issues such as difficulties with contacting the staff involved in their medical care either in hospital or in the community, difficulties in accessing specialist medical equipment for use at home, or support with accessing hospice services.

More people needed help with accessing care than with side-effects of treatment and pain combined, and the number has increased by 11% this year after remaining relatively steady for several years.

Separate research found almost half (44%) cancer nurse specialists said their workload is having a negative impact on patient care and one in five people recently diagnosed with or treated for cancer (17%) said the healthcare professionals who cared for them seemed to have unmanageable workloads.

Ellen Lang, a service manager on Macmillan’s support line, said: “When you only have 10 minutes with your doctor and your nurse is visibly rushed off their feet, it’s inevitable that you’ll leave without all the answers you need. This is something we’re seeing people experiencing more often.”