North East Connected

INTERNATIONAL NURSES DAY 2023: Leading cancer nurse future-proofing region’s patient care


Health lead’s successful digital resource for cancer patients, and tackling future shortages among cancer nurse specialists supported by university apprenticeship

Improving life for patients after a cancer diagnosis has been central to the career of one of the region’s leading cancer nurses for the last two decades.

Kelly Craggs was appointed the Macmillan Cancer Lead Nurse at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT) in 2019 to maximise the contribution that nursing makes to cancer services to achieve the best outcomes for patients. Her role also supports the National Cancer Agenda.

Today (12 May) is International Nurses Day 2023, and we’re shining a spotlight on the work of our student nurses at the University of Sunderland. The day also offers a chance to recognise the outstanding efforts that nurses make in delivering high-quality, safe patient care.

There was no doubt Kelly’s clinical skills and experience as a cancer specialist nurse have seen her drive forward changes especially in the area of head and neck cancers at STSFT, where she worked for many years. From rehabilitation programmes, new clinics and collaborative partnership, her changes helped improvements in patients’ welfare, and supported their families living with, and beyond, cancer.

But improving cancer services across the organisation in Sunderland and South Tyneside in her new role has required key leadership skills, which she’s gained through a Senior Leader Apprenticeship, studying one day a week over two years at the University of Sunderland.

“The programme has provided transferable skills,” says Kelly, 42, who graduates later this year. “Prior to this, I was a clinical nurse with lots of knowledge and experience within cancer and enjoyed improving services. But now, I have the recognised academic qualification that makes me able to apply my skills in areas such as innovation, recruitment, retention and sustainability, to this new role and in other areas.”

Drawing on those new-found academic skills helped Kelly to introduce the hugely successful Cancer Information Hub six months ago. The digital platform, viewed thousands of times, provides cancer information to support patients, their families and carers following a diagnosis.

Also determined to tackle a shortage of specialist cancer nurses in the future with effective succession planning, Kelly has introduced the Cancer Internship pilot programme, funded by Health Education England (HEE).

The 12-month programme has provided an opportunity for registered nurses with an interest in cancer nursing to develop their skills through working with cancer teams across the Trust. The concept is now being rolled out across the region, and HEE are supporting the programme through funding for a further year.

As we celebrate International Nurses Day (12 May), which offers a chance to recognise the efforts nurses make in delivering high-quality, safe-patient care, Kelly, from County Durham, says: “Being a cancer specialist nurse has been a hugely rewarding job, and it’s wonderful to be in the position to influence others in this area to support patients and their families affected by cancer.”

Kelly began her career as a health care assistant, before qualifying as a nurse in 2005. She then spent four years as a staff nurse in surgery, before beginning her cancer specialist role in 2009 within head and neck at Sunderland Royal Hospital. Eight years later she landed a secondment with the Northern Cancer Alliance, looking at improving cancer pathways.

In 2019, following the merger of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trusts, Kelly was appointed as the cancer lead nurse.

Angela Huntley, Deputy Programme Lead for the Senior Leader Apprenticeship, said: “This programme has given Kelly the confidence, skills and attributes to become a strategic leader who will make a significant difference in transformational change for numerous stakeholders.”

The Senior Leader Apprenticeship is a 22-month programme which encompasses the strategic skills required of a senior leader. It explores leadership and leader identity and what that means to individuals in the context of their organisation.

To find out more about the University of Sunderland’s Degree and Higher Apprenticeship Programmes, click here.

To find out more about our undergraduate and postgraduate nursing degrees, explore our facilities and chat to our current students and lecturers at the University of Sunderland, join our Nursing Open Day on Saturday, 10 June.

For more information about nurse vacancies at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, click here:

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