Increased pressure on night nurses service for cancer patients dying at home

Irish Cancer Society experiences 20% growth in demand while suffering drop in staff

An increase in the number of terminal cancer patients dying in their own homes has put pressure on a service providing night nurses to assist families.

The Irish Cancer Society has experienced a 20 per cent increase in demand while at the same time it has suffered a drop off in available staff.

It says that due to the ongoing impact of coronavirus on hospitals, more patients are being cared for in the community, straining its Night Nursing team.

This, it believes, may be linked to more patients leaving hospital settings early as part of an overall push to free up capacity due to coronavirus pressures on the system.


Nurses on the society’s roster have also increasingly moved from part time to full time HSE work - again probably as a consequence of the public health emergency - leaving them unavailable.

"We are really keen to be there for anyone who needs us and that we don't have to turn down any family," said the Society's chief executive Averil Power.

“The vast majority of people want to die at home. So while that’s always an awful experience for anyone to lose someone to cancer, it’s nice to know they will spend their final days and nights at home.”

The service can provide up to ten nights of care with nurses attending to general medical needs as well as crucial medication and pain management in the final days and hours.

County panels

Ms Power explained that the team enable families to spend time with loved ones and to get rest, safe in the knowledge somebody is there to alert them to any developments. It provides about 7,000 care nights per year, including 1,000 nights during the recent pandemic.*

The Society operates a panel of nurses in each county. Many of them work part time for the HSE but in recent times have switched to full time roles.

The service is free of charge and is funded via charitable donations.

"Families tell us that it's an incredibly special service. I have the privilege as chief executive of getting cards from people all over Ireland who want to say thanks to nurses who supported them. They tell me how compassionate the nurse was and how kind."

Despite the importance of its appeal, the Society is seeking nurses in an era of unprecedented pressure on the healthcare system.

Last month the HSE said it planned to take on as many doctors, nurses and healthcare staff as it could through a massive recruitment drive.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said there would be no financial limits - "The only constraint will be the availability of people".

*This article was amended on April 25th to change the word hours to nights

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times