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The Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) plays a key role in a patient’s cancer care journey – supporting them through diagnosis, treatment and access to psychological support and specialist care. Cancer CNSs also facilitate service improvements and implement strategic changes in personalised cancer care and services for people living with and beyond cancer. The role is vital for the 1,000 new cancer cases found every day (CRUK, 2016-2018).

Specialist cancer nurses improve outcomes, support patients, reduce treatment costs, increase efficiency, drive innovation, and provide valuable information for service improvement as well as enable multidisciplinary care.   

Across London there is a shortage of CNSs and a rising demand for care.  The reasons for falling numbers include retirement, misconceptions of the role, difficulty navigating career progression and a limited focus on cancer nursing during initial training.

Macmillan Cancer CNS Development Leads

A two-year pilot across London, led by the North Central London Cancer Alliance, aims to strengthen and increase the pipeline of future senior CNSs. This nursing leadership pilot is funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and NHS England -Workforce, Education and Training.

Pilot objectives

  • to increase the number of  applicants for CNS roles in London   
  • to speed up the professional development of new CNSs
  • to improving retention of existing CNSs   
  • to provide on the ground support for new CNSs to help them to become skilled and knowledgeable professionals
  • to encourage transition from other areas of nursing into CNS roles.
Two cancer clinical nurse specialists at the Royal Free Hospital discussing printed information for breast cancer patients

Five CNS Development Leads, one for each of the London Integrated Care System (ICS) areas, are being recruited to focus on supporting CNSs, through teaching, observation, coaching and reflective techniques. They will champion the role of the cancer CNS and be a point of contact for aspiring Cancer CNSs,  including those who completed their nursing training outside of the UK. Activity will include career events, webinars and shadowing days.

The pilot will implement the ACCEND (Aspirant, Cancer Career and Education Development) programme developed by NHS England Workforce, Education and Training. CDLs will use the ACCEND capability framework to track and assess the developing CNSs over a period of 12-18 months.

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