Cancer patients’ Attendance at Emergency Departments reduced due to new National Acute Oncology Nursing Service: Acute Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist available to patients at TUH84% of patients who used service avoided Emergency Department

84% of patients who used service avoided Emergency Department

(March 6th 2023) In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the HSE 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 Cancer Policy Unit.

The Acute Oncology Service started in Tallaght University Hospital in September 2020 and has since become well established. The Acute Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist assesses the patient’s symptoms using an evidence-based tool and advises on the most appropriate care and management required.

An audit of the calls received in 2022 (1,383) received by Acute Oncology Nurses nationally during the 8am to 4pm service showed that 84% of patients with cancer who contacted the service did not require Emergency Department attendance or admission.

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 Emergency Department because of the seriousness of their symptoms.

Terry Hanan, National Clinical Lead for Cancer Nursing, HSE National Cancer Control Programme (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.

We also link in with community services such as Community Intervention Teams (CITs), 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 ’’.

Dawn Whelan, Acute Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist at Tallaght University Hospital stated: “The purpose of my role is to implement a non-Emergency Department route for Oncology/Haematology patients who are experiencing a disease or treatment related complication. The introduction of this nurse-led service is invaluable for cancer patients as where possible they can avoid attendance to the Emergency Department. Patients are triaged, assessed and managed and referred on or discharged home in a timely manner. I am a point of contact for patients in the out-patient setting and it provides these patients with a huge amount of reassurance that when they are experiencing a problem that there is a nurse on the end of the phone who can assess them and help to avoid the ED if possible.”  

The Acute Oncology Service at Tallaght University Hospital runs from Monday to Friday from 7:30am to 4pm. 

Patient, Joan Lube from Newbridge, Co Kildare who attended the service at Tallaght University Hospital said: “I needed to contact the triage service on two or three occasions since commencing my cancer treatment, and I have always been amazed by the direct access to the team first and foremost, and the prompt response to any issues or concerns that I had. I knew I was not alone during treatment and I could always ask for help and advice. Receiving a phone call has been so reassuring and has made my cancer journey much easier.’’