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Three-year trial of specialist role

A trial of prostate cancer nurses may lead to a national roll-out of the support carers, writes Julie Sykes.

For men and their families, a diagnosis of prostate cancer can lead to great uncertainty. Men not only face the prospect of treatment, but also may have to live with long-term side effects and face prolonged surveillance programs requiring ongoing hospital visits, sometimes involving multiple specialists.

The need for expert advice and ongoing support for those affected by a cancer diagnosis is already well-recognised and addressed for other types of cancer. However there is no Australia-wide defined specialist nurse in prostate cancer care, as there is for other diseases. With the numbers of new prostate cancer diagnosis in Australia rising each year, this in turn will increase demand on already scarce supportive care resources.

The need for expert nursing intervention begins at diagnosis. Current treatment options intended to cure prostate cancer include surgery to remove the prostate gland, radiotherapy or a combination of treatments. However not all men require immediate treatment, as some men are suitable for surveillance, with treatment being given later to either offer a cure or control symptoms in more advanced disease. Non-curative treatments include hormone therapy, radiotherapy for symptom control and chemotherapy. All of these treatment options have a number of recognised risks and side effects that can have a significant impact on a man’s quality of life. Individual prostate cancer treatment plans are determined by a number of factors including, but not limited to, the extent of disease when cancer is diagnosed. In these instances men are sometimes faced with the challenge of making choices about their treatment plan. This is where a specialist nurse providing essential information and support during this decision-making process is needed.

Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) has taken a leadership role to address this area of unmet need, and has developed a three-year pilot program trialling prostate cancer specialist nurses throughout metropolitan and regional Australia. The nurses will be based in all states and territories and will work in private and public hospitals to deliver a nation-wide service.

Indeed, the first prostate cancer specialist nurse has already started at Canberra Hospital with other positions at Royal Adelaide Hospital, Bendigo Hospital, Latrobe Regional Hospital and Townsville Hospital beginning in coming months. The recruitment and selection of host sites is now being finalised – with 64 applications received from prostate cancer services across the country.
The prostate cancer specialist nurse will be an expert point of contact for those affected by prostate cancer by providing clinical care and psychosocial support. The nurse will work in a multi-disciplinary context alongside hospital- and community-based health care workers involved in cancer care. The first cohort of prostate cancer specialist nurses will work within an agreed structure to ensure all men receive the same standard of care from their nurse, wherever they live. Targeted resources including a framework for practice, competency standards and a professional development framework have been developed to support the nurses throughout the program. The frameworks are based on nationally recognised, best-practice models for specialist cancer care.

The main purpose of the service is to help men through their cancer journey, with scope in the framework to allow the nurses to develop the local services in accordance to local need.
PCFA will also be working collaboratively with the Queensland University of Technology to formally evaluate the pilot program. This will help determine the long-term plans for the service. The study will involve healthcare teams who work with the nurses, as well as men and families who have been in contact with the nursing service.

Julie Sykes is the national manager of the Prostate Cancer Specialist Nursing Program at the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. For further information about the national trial visit the PCFA website: www.prostate.org.au

Roles and responsibilities of the prostate cancer specialist nurse
• Provide those affected by prostate cancer with ongoing point of contact and support
• Assist men to access services in the hospital and their community during and after treatment
• Provide men with reliable information about their diagnosis and treatment plan
• Provide men with information on dealing with the effects of treatment, and how to get further help to deal with specific problems they may be having
• Coordinating care – wherever a man is in his cancer journey
• Helping men and families access a support group
• Provide education and training to other health-care workers as well as those affected by prostate cancer
• Participate in projects and developments to improve care for those affected by prostate cancer.

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