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Home » Oncology » The impact of nursing specialists on cancer care

Fidelma Hackett

Advanced Nurse Practitioner, University Hospital Limerick

Sinead Lawlor

Haematology Clinical Nurse Specialist, University Hospital Limerick

Building a network of nursing specialists is key to supporting the growing number of people who are both being diagnosed with and surviving cancer.

In the last decade, cancer treatment has changed dramatically. The increasing use of oral anti-cancer medication has taken care out of hospitals and into the comfort of patients’ own homes.

Through this community-based approach, patients are also benefitting from the support of clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) in the hospital who act as a link between support in the community and hospital. Many more patients are receiving specialist care in the community through tele-health clinics run by advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs).

But, as Fidelma Hackett, who leads an ANP haematology clinic in University Hospital Limerick, admits, there is still work to be done when it comes to understanding what this critical group of nurses do.

Understanding specialist nursing roles:

ANPs are specialists, with years of experience in their field and master’s degree level qualifications. Through regular clinics they do everything from prescribing treatment and managing medication to conducting examinations, and planning follow-up support with other healthcare professionals.

“Nursing by its nature is holistic,” explains Hackett. “At a clinic, yes, you’re looking for signs of disease progression and any side effects of treatment but you’re also looking at the social, economic and mental health of patients as well as quality of life.”

Sinead Lawlor, Haematology CNS at University Hospital Limerick, highlights the crucial role of the CNS in providing advice and support for patients during their cancer journey. “Patients can become daunted before their initial consultation. They can be anxious. We advocate and empower patients, helping to prepare them for, what at times can be, a difficult consultation especially when breaking bad news. Patients appreciate having a specific person they know and trust and someone they can call on later from home. We get great feedback all the time about that service.” 

As nurses, we are very close to patients so we hear their problems and can work to improve the solutions.

Sinead Lawlor

Putting patients first

“Everything we do is patient focused,” continues Hackett. “It’s about streamlining the services and getting patients where they need to be. As nurses, we are very close to patients so we hear their problems and can work to improve the solutions.”

Lawlor also highlights: “We coordinate patients’ care with different services, such as dieticians and physiotherapists, and are the link between the hospital and the community. We help to improve their quality of life in the community and reduce unwanted admissions to hospital.”

As survivorship improves and new medical and technological innovations are developed, it is inevitable that the role of specialist cancer nurses will become more and more central to every patient’s cancer journey.

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