An audit of December 2022 calls received by acute oncology nurses showed that 84 per cent of patients with cancer who contacted the service did not require emergency department (ED) attendance or admission.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) funded 26 acute oncology nurses in hospitals nationwide. Patients undergoing active cancer treatment who become ill at home can contact the acute oncology nurses via a dedicated phone service instead of ending up in the emergency department. This programme of work is supported by the Department of Health’s cancer policy unit.
The specialist nurses assess the patient’s symptoms using an evidence-based tool and advise on the most appropriate care and management required.
A total of 1,383 calls were received, during the 8am to 4 pm service, in December 2022.
Of the patients who required further assessment in hospital, where possible, they were seen in the medical assessment unit or oncology day ward. In some instances, where clinically appropriate following assessment by the acute oncology nurse, some patients had to attend the ED because of the seriousness of their symptoms.
Ms Terry Hanan, National Clinical Lead for Cancer Nursing, NCCP, said: ‘’During recent pressures in emergency departments, the NCCP nursing team received feedback from services highlighting the valuable impact that the Acute Oncology Nursing Service has made. This service ensures that vulnerable cancer patients are assessed, and where possible, avoid ED attendance.’
“The service is currently available from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. We also link in with community services such as community intervention teams , GPs and public health nurses to provide additional support to patients where required. Our aim is to build resilience to expand this service further, beyond Covid, so that more patients being treated for cancer can avail of the service.”