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Cancer care at home: do I need a nurse or a carer?

Cancer care at home: do I need a nurse or a carer?
Date published: 1 September 2022 Author: Izzi Parsonage Categories:

It’s one of the most common questions cancer patients ask when thinking about a plan of care at home: do I need a nurse or would a caregiver be more appropriate? The question is often followed up with: what exactly is the difference between the two?

There is some overlap in the roles, but also some distinct differences. To help you make an informed choice about what you need, here are the definitions of both ‘carer’ and ‘nurse’.

Carer

Also known as a caregiver, their role is to provide ill, disabled, ageing and vulnerable people with support and supervision in their day to day lives. A carer can be employed to work in your home or in a residential setting. 

Carers perform a wide range of tasks for their clients depending on their needs. This includes assistance with personal care such as washing, toileting, grooming and getting dressed. They help to prepare meals, clean your home and do shopping or pick up medication.

Perhaps less talked about is the carer’s companionable role. Here is a person who can help you maintain your independence by helping you leave the house, taking you to appointments or even escorting you to an exercise class or a social activity.

Although they don’t have the same formal training as nurses, carers will often be well practised in various healthcare responsibilities and perform specialist caregiving tasks, including changing dressings, administering medicines, checking blood pressure, temperature and helping with skin care.

The caregiving role demands great flexibility, hard work and the ability to respond to a client’s changing needs and often complex conditions. Interpersonal skills are also extremely important, not just in the carer’s relationship with the client, but also in their interactions with family, friends and the many various agencies involved in your care.

Nurse

A nurse is a health care professional who works across the entire spectrum of healthcare, including palliative services, nursing homes and hospice care. A large number of nurses are involved in the direct provision of social care, including home care for cancer patients.

Working both individually and as part of a team, your nurse will have many responsibilities. These include administering medication, checking catheters and importantly the ability to assess the patient’s care requirements. There are different levels of nursing, and their skillset becomes more advanced depending on their training, allowing them to specialise or become a community nurse.

Most nurses work as part of a multidisciplinary health care team, something which requires a broad base of knowledge in different areas of the medical profession. Like carers, nurses need to have good interpersonal skills, excellent communication and flexibility in their work.

Which is best for me?

Of course this depends very much on your situation. People with complex medical needs will require a higher level of care – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need to employ a registered nurse.

If you choose Promedica24, people with cancer are allocated a specialist cancer nurse, who will train your dedicated carer to deliver the treatment you need. Although your carer is unlikely to be a nurse they can still fulfil much of the specialist care that you might expect from a nurse.

This practice is something the NHS accepts as a pragmatic solution to delivering the best care. Your carer will form part of a wider team providing medical care, and will be the person best placed to make the necessary calls to qualified nurses and other health care agencies involved in treating your cancer.

Your health routine

In many cases, treatment for cancer can be a long process, with treatment and pain relief management sometimes becoming quite complex. Live-in carers are able to monitor this routine for you, making sure you are taking your medicines consistently and at the right time. Carers will also ensure that you make it to essential appointments, getting you there and keeping the relevant health professionals informed of results and further action needed.

Carer or companion

One major benefit of employing a carer is the emphasis they place on your social life. While nurses are usually happy to sit and chat about your wellbeing, they face great time pressures. Live-in carers offer that little bit extra, whether it’s sitting down with you over a home cooked meal, or helping you stay connected with friends and family.

Cancer treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy can leave you feeling completely exhausted. As a result you may feel less like taking part in social activities, but this can be a vicious circle, leaving you isolated. Having a permanent live-in carer means there’s always someone to chat with throughout the day. They can also encourage you with social engagements, whether that’s meeting up with friends or attending clubs and other social events, fostering a sense of belonging in the community. 

It is so important to remember that your life is about much more than your cancer diagnosis. A regular social routine should be seen as part of your package of care, benefitting your mental health and reducing the negative feelings commonly associated with cancer.

When a nurse is needed

Of course, there are situations where you really do need dedicated nursing care – this can also be accessed at home. If you have advanced cancer, complex needs or are approaching end of life then your GP or palliative care team will arrange for community nurses to visit you at home and provide regular, effective care. They will be able to advise on pain and symptom control and offer practical and emotional support for you and your carer.

It’s unlikely, however, that the NHS will be able to provide live-in nurses, and they will more likely visit at points throughout the day and night. If you feel you need round the clock nursing then it’s worth investigating some of the private nursing options available. 

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