A petition calling for government funding for specialist lung cancer nurses is being been launched today with lung cancer advocates saying that these nurses are crucial to improving outcomes for people diagnosed with Australia’s deadliest cancer.
Led by Lung Foundation Australia, the petition is asking for 15 specialist lung cancer nurses to be funded in this year’s federal budget. Signatures will be collected and presented to the House of Representatives in March 2020.
The petition is officially being launched today from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) where over 400 health professionals and people affected by lung cancer are gathering for the 2020 Australian Lung Cancer Conference (ALCC).
“Recognising that the Federal Government funds 98 specialist breast, and 62 prostate cancer nurses, and no lung cancer nurses, this petition draws to the attention of the House the disparity in treatment faced by Australians diagnosed with lung cancer,” said Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mark Brooke.
Despite the mounting evidence demonstrating the need for increased workforce capacity, and years of campaigning, Australia has the full time equivalent of just 12 specialist lung cancer nurses to support more than 12,800 people newly diagnosed with lung cancer each year. None of these positions are funded by the federal government, which is in stark contrast to the more than 160 federally funded breast and prostate cancer nurses.
“The critical shortage of specialist lung cancer nurses in Australia is simply unacceptable and it is compromising quality of care,” Mr Brooke said.
“Our lung cancer patients are tired of being treated like second class citizens. They need and deserve the same access to quality care as those diagnosed with any other cancer.”
The primary role of the specialist lung cancer nurse is to support the patient and their family to understand their cancer and treatment options and ensure they receive appropriate and timely initial treatment and co-ordinated and continuous long-term follow-up. They advocate for and ensure patients’ needs and preferences are addressed from pre-diagnosis through to end of life.
Studies have shown that access to specialist cancer nurses increases survival, improves quality of life and reduces hospital admissions. Patients with access to a specialist nurse are 34 per cent more likely to receive treatment.
Cancer Australia’s Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Lung Cancer states that best-practice lung cancer treatment and care is delivered by a Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT), of which the specialist lung cancer nurse is cited as a core member.
Lung cancer patient Marilyn Nelson experienced first-hand the difference a lung cancer nurse can make.
“When I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, I thought I would receive the best possible care through private health. I was quite wrong. I didn’t have access to a lung cancer nurse or even a cancer care coordinator. I really needed someone to explain things to me, and to be contactable when I had questions or needed support. My only option was to call my oncologist’s secretary with a question, who would relay the messages to and from my oncologist. It left me feeling quite isolated, unsupported, and distressed.
“I am now treated in public health where there is a Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT) which includes access to a cancer care coordinator and nurses with experience in lung cancer. The difference is very significant. I have access to support when I need it, care is coordinated, questions readily answered. The way it should be,” she said.
Research Fellow in Lung Cancer and ALCC plenary Chair Dr Vanessa Brunelli is undertaking research to develop consistent, critical evidence about the role and core supportive care practices of specialist lung cancer nurses. This evidence will inform future large-scale projects which will implement and evaluate the role of these nurses in the Australian health care system.
Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mr Mark Brooke thanks and congratulates Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, for making important progress to improve outcomes for Australians impacted by lung cancer.
“As we welcome the first screening enquiry and the potential for earlier diagnosis, this further highlights the need for specialist lung cancer nurses to support patients on their journey,” he said.
“The shortage of lung cancer nurses is inconsistent with evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and international best-practice and is in stark contrast to the support provided to other cancer patients. We urge everyone to sign this position to help us call on the government to fund this essential life-changing support for lung cancer patients.”
Sign the petition: https://www.lungfoundation.com.au/petition/
- Key facts: Lung Cancer in Australia
- About Lung Cancer Nurses
- NEW RESEARCH: “Hanging on the telephone” – measuring the impact of a telephone-based specialist lung cancer nursing service
- Specialist Lung Cancer Nurse Petition
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