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NEWS: Why is specialist cancer nursing important? Because quality matters

How do I get quality when I want plans for a new building? I go to a qualified and registered architect, confident that their education and training is regulated at a national and EU-level.

How do I get quality if I have a dental problem? I go to a qualified and registered dentist, knowing again that there is EU agreement on the education and training required by all who use that title.

Of course, in reality, few of us really think about these matters. Somehow citizens just know these professions are well regulated. The details of how need not concern us – unless a problem arises.

As a medic myself, I am happy to belong to a professional group that has resolved its major questions of regulation and education. Our common medical education pathway at undergraduate level opens into the full variety of medical specialties, including those within the ECCO umbrella, such as surgery, radiotherapy, medical oncology and many others.

However, not all of my health professional colleagues have yet gained the regulatory pathway towards specialisation that their skills and contribution to treating patients call for. Among them are our crucial caregivers: the specialist cancer nurses.

The need for specialisation in cancer nursing has arisen to address requirements such as coordinating care and providing patients with information that is specific to their condition. Different countries have responded with their own forms of specialist cancer nursing education and certification, in much the same way as happened for medicine and other professions and specialties before international coordination efforts were made.

So this is the situation that cancer nursing in Europe now faces: there are fantastic developments in some countries, but a lack of uniform approach impedes the spread of specialist cancer nursing across Europe.

ECCO is the voice of multidisciplinarity across the cancer continuum in Europe. Therefore, without hesitation we are fully supporting the Recognising European Cancer Nursing (RECaN) project, set up to increase recognition of the value of oncology nursing. With the input of our members and Patient Advisory Committee, ECCO recently published a consensus position statement highlighting the evidence for specialist cancer nursing and the need for their presence in the care pathway (bit.ly/ECCO-specialist-nurses).

Yet, all the while, we have the perversity of an EU not only making noises about downsizing its health ambitions, but also promoting a professional deregulation agenda, including in the safety-critical area of healthcare (see also my ECCO comment, Cancer World 78, May 2017).

These factors make the coming together of cancer professionals in common cause for oncology nursing very important.

Nobody wants to turn the clock back on the achievement of EU-level regulation of the medical profession and its specialisms. Achieving the RECaN goals of European coordination of specialist cancer nursing would never be regretted either. ECCO’s latest position statement for cancer nursing is a powerful message. It is not just cancer nurses wanting a European approach to their speciality, it is also their fellow healthcare professionals, and the patients they serve so well – two groups who know best of all what cancer nurses have to offer.

Peter Naredi
President of the ECCO Board of Directors (2016/2017)

Article published in September-October 2017 edition of Cancerworld.

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