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Nurses need to be more aware of role of cancer carers

Wednesday 28th September 2016
How nursing staff can offer extra support to the carers of people living with cancer. Image: Attlia Barabas via iStock
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Nursing staff in the UK are being reminded of the valuable and hard-working role that the carers of cancer patients perform, ahead of the World's Biggest Coffee Morning event to raise money for patients and their families later this week (Friday September 30th).

To coincide with the event, Macmillan Cancer Support - the charity behind the coffee morning initiative - has published the results of a new survey that reveal the burden cancer carers in Britain face.

The role of cancer carers

The research led to the discovery that approximately 110,000 people in the UK are currently caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer, taking on responsibilities such as washing and dressing them, as well as helping them to the toilet. Some 89 per cent of cancer carers also reported having a full-time job, meaning they often found themselves in need of extra support from trained nurses or simply just another pair of hands to help out.

In total, 70 per cent of home carers for people living with cancer were found to be over the age of 45, marking a sharp increase from 2011, when just 57 per cent fell into this age category. As a result, many cancer carers are categorised as belonging to the 'sandwich generation', which refers to the fact they have both elderly relatives and a young family to look after at the same time.

What's more, the survey results showed that as a consequence of their multiple responsibilities, up to 70 per cent of carers for people with cancer experience mental health problems, including anxiety, stress and depression, while 43 per cent feel their career has also been adversely impacted.

Overall, more than half (55 per cent) of respondents to the survey said they currently received no extra support from the authorities, and while Macmillan Nurses are there to provide additional assistance, there is no reason that other nursing staff cannot offer extra help to carers as well.

How nurses can offer extra support

Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, commented: "It's saddening to hear of the growing strain on cancer carers. In extreme cases, a person may have to dress, feed and take their parent to the toilet while also dealing with the school run and a full-time job.

"Too often, this 'sandwich generation' of carers find themselves pulled in every direction by a physically and emotionally-draining juggling act that can cause their finances to come under pressure, their working lives to suffer and their own health to bear the brunt."

With this in mind, nurses and other healthcare staff treating cancer patients should make sure to involve carers in the treatment process as much as possible so they are aware of their loved one's current condition and prognosis.

In addition, nurses should take the time to ask after the wellbeing of the carer as well as the patient at appointments, to make sure they can be directed towards extra help and support if they are struggling to juggle all of their responsibilities at once.

Written by James Puckle

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