Census finds Welsh cancer workforce in danger of becoming unsustainable

Almost three quarters of specialist breast cancer nurses in Wales are aged 50 or over so many could retire in the next decade, a charity has warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support said its latest census shows 74% of breast cancer nurses where age was reported are at least 50, leading to concerns that the Welsh cancer nursing workforce is in danger of becoming unsustainable.

It also reveals the number of whole time equivalent posts for breast cancer nursing have dropped by 14% since the last census was carried out in 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 to 4.4 vacancies per 100 filled roles.

This takes them higher than the overall UK rate of 3.2 vacancies per 100 filled employee roles for health and social care roles.

Macmillan Wales said the figures were particularly worrying against a backdrop of growing numbers of people living with cancer, with more than 19,000 people being diagnosed in Wales each year.

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

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

Richard Pugh (pictured), Macmillan’s head of services in Wales, 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.

“We want the Welsh Government, health boards and (specialist cancer treatment centre) 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.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Macmillan / Youtube.