What Impact Will Nurses’ Strike Have On Cancer Patients?

There could be severe delays for cancer treatment caused by the nurses’ strike, which could mean the difference between life and death for some patients. 

Strikes will take place on December 15th and 20th in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, after the government refused to enter formal pay negotiations with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). 

Consequently, the group has warned the NHS that strike action will go ahead from Thursday, unless offers of a pay increase are put forward. 

Explaining the reason behind the industrial action, the RCN stated: “We’re campaigning for a pay rise to overcome real-terms pay cuts which have left experienced nurses 20 per cent worse off since 2010. Only by paying nursing staff fairly will we recruit and retain the skilled professionals we need.”

While nurses feel this is the only way to get a pay rise, the strikes could have a detrimental impact on patients, particularly those seeking life-saving treatment for cancer. 

Dame Cally Palmer, national cancer director for England, even revealed to The Telegraph she is “extremely concerned” the RCN has not committed to ensuring life-saving (P1) and urgent cancer surgery (P2) would still go ahead. 

Despite the RCN offering a ‘life-preserving model’, which means care will continue to preserve life or prevent permanent disability, this does not stipulate that P2 surgery will continue. This could affect many of the 1,200 patients having P1 and P2 surgeries daily.

Dame Palmer noted that if P2 cancer surgeries are cancelled on Thursday at the Royal Marsden Hospital, where she is chief executive, the next available date would be February 9th 2023.

“This is beyond the optimal three-month window for P2 cases,” she stated, add: “I understand how enormously difficult these issues are for all concerned, but our common aim is to ensure we do not cause harm to people undergoing vital cancer treatment to achieve cure or extension of life.”

A disruption to P2 surgeries would take hospitals up to six weeks to recover from, which could result in the unnecessary – and potentially life-threatening – spread of cancer in some patients. 

Subsequently, Dame Palmer noted that rescheduling procedures could result in many P2 patients moving into the P1 category, needing life-saving procedures. 

Chief nursing officer for England Dame Ruth May also revealed a letter to The Times newspaper, which stated that chemotherapy appointments for the strike dates are being rescheduled. She also asked for assurances that care for dying patients would be a priority while staff numbers are low. 

She called for “end of life care and good pain and symptom relief” to “alleviate unnecessary distress” for both patients and their families. 

However, a spokesperson for the RCN claimed it has agreed care with senior clinicians to ensure emergency cancer services, urgent care assessment and admission units for paediatric-only A&E departments are exempt from the strikes. 

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