Breast care nurses (BCNs) provide continuity of care for patients being treated for cancer by various professionals, and make sure that patients are well informed about both the disease and their treatment. This level of support can improve the physical and psychological outcomes for early breast cancer patients. The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre recommends that a BCN should be one of the 6 core members of a multi-disciplinary care team. Guidelines recommend that the patient sees the BCN before surgery.
A 2006 survey found that the majority of Australian and New Zealand surgeons involved in the National Breast Cancer Audit have access to a BCN either in or outside their practice, although there were differences in access. Public practices were more likely to have direct access to a BCN than private, while surgeons in rural areas found access difficult overall. Direct access to a BCN was also more frequent in New Zealand than in Australia.
Patient interactions with a BCN were most common directly after diagnosis. In a third of practices surveyed, patients met the BCN a second time (usually after surgery), although no private rural patients had access to a BCN more than once.
This study shows that overall, practices have adequate access to a BCN, however BCN availability needs to improve in private and rural practices. Resources are needed to address this inequality and conduct research into the issues affecting the availability of BCNs in Australia and New Zealand. The McGrath Foundation intends to address the lack of access to BCNs in rural Australia.