Cancer nurse coordinators get thumbs up from independent review

An independent review has given the thumbs-up to a new nursing role established to support patients just diagnosed with cancer.

The new nursing role established three years ago to support patients diagnosed with cancer is proving its worth. Source: 1 NEWS

Cancer nurse coordinators were introduced in 2013 as part of the Government's $33 million package to improve cancer care.

All 20 district health boards now have at least one full-time coordinator. There are currently 70 nationwide.

An independent review released to 1 NEWS has confirmed that the nurse coordinators are improving the diagnosis and treatment process for patients, creating a more positive and less stressful experience. 

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says cancer nurse coordinators are now helping over 1000 patients a month. 

"Being diagnosed with cancer or waiting for a diagnosis can be an extremely traumatic time for patients and their families," Dr Coleman said.

"Cancer nurse coordinators are highly experienced nurses with expertise in navigating the system and helping patients access other support services," he said.

Desma Dawler is one of five nurse coordinators employed by the Canterbury DHB to help guide patients through this stressful and anxious time. 

She cares for around 30 patients at any one time newly-diagnosed with colorectal cancer, guiding them through the subsequent investigative process of scans and tests in a timely manner.   

"You know you are making a difference just ensuring that the patient is at the right place at the right time with the right information" she said.

Clinicians such as Canterbury DHB colorectal surgeon Chris Wakeman say the role is making a huge difference to his patients. 

"It gives them a point of contact. The nurses coordinate the CT and MRI scans and for colorectal cancer it is really important we have all that information so we can make a plan for the patient's treatment" he said.

However the independent review of the role, carried out by Litmus, has found there is still room for improvement and that not all who could benefit are getting access. 

It highlighted a need for better promotion of the role among GPs and in primary care and within Maori and Pacific communities.  

The Health Minister agrees. 

"I think it's important that DHBs are communicating with people at the frontline of clinical care and just explaining to them what services there are available that they may want to put their patients in touch with. So communication is probably something that needs to be stepped up " he said.