Recognising the value of cancer nurses – today and every day!

Professor Daniel Kelly, EONS President

Professor Daniel Kelly, EONS President

On May 18th The European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS for short) will be celebrating the first European Cancer Nursing Day. We are doing this because we feel it is important for everyone to understand what cancer nurses do, how the role varies across Europe and how cancer nurses could contribute further to excellent cancer care.

What do cancer nurses do?

We will be celebrating all nurses on European Cancer Nursing Day. This includes nurses who work in cancer units giving direct treatment to people living with a cancer diagnosis such as in chemotherapy or radiotherapy units, but also nurses in follow-up clinics, intensive care units, operating theatres, patient’s homes, or in hospices or day centres.

Looking at the range of settings in which you will find cancer nurses there is a huge range of expertise and skill on offer. Nurses work as part of a team, and some act as clinical leaders bringing many years of experience to their role as leaders of others. Nurses also work around the clock and with all age ranges from babies to older adults who are facing the challenge of cancer. Nursing in many countries is now a graduate profession with undergraduate degrees forming the initial bedrock, followed by further study at Masters or Doctoral level as their career progresses.

One of our hopes for European Cancer Nursing Day is to inform the public (and some colleagues) about the many roles that cancer nurses now carry out, and to ensure that they are given recognition through education, appropriate pay and conditions and a career structure that ensures that we attract new nurses, and retain those that we have.

What needs to change?

First we need to recognize that nursing shortages are now a reality. In England the Royal College of Nursing has estimated that there is currently a shortfall of approximately 20,000 nurses. In Sweden in 2014 it was reported that the shortage was approximately 1,200. In the USA it has been reported that over the next 8 years there will be 1.2 million nursing vacancies.

Given this situation it is important to understand the challenges facing all nurses and to consider how health systems will be able to cope unless nursing shortages are tackled. This will include cancer services.

In the ideal world nurses should be able to travel across Europe, or globally, to find the best jobs with the best pay and conditions – meaning that those countries who do not treat their nurses so well will inevitably be the losers. In practice this does happen to some extent, however, nursing qualifications are not always recognized between countries and different registration requirements exist for nurses who do decide to move.

We suggest that attention is paid to recognizing the value of the cancer nurses that we have and to recognize the valuable contribution that they make. If nurse’s talents are not being exploited then it is hardly surprising that they will move to find better prospects.

ECCO has launched a position statement to this effect and EONS is carrying out the RECaN project to help in the goal of recognizing cancer nursing.

The RECaN project is being carried out in three phases, the first of which is to capture the value of published nurse-led interventions. This will report mid-2017 and we are already progressing with Phase 2, to describe how nursing is developing in four contrasting countries. The final phase will endeavor to influence oncopolicy by bring the value of cancer nursing to the attention of policy makers at the national and EU level.

 Valuing nursing and valuing care

Our goal in each of these endeavours is to ensure that people value and respect the contribution of cancer nursing. We promote values of holistic and compassionate care and we support cancer nurses across Europe who provide care to patients and their families.

If we value care and excellence then we need cancer nurses themselves to be valued and recognized for the part they play in supporting the growing number of people being diagnosed with cancer each year. We are planning a day to remember and we hope it will lead to many more celebrations of cancer nursing!

To find out more, or to help us in our work, please visit the EONS website

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