With more than 90% of oncology radiation practices reporting staffing shortages, patients are facing new barriers to accessing timely cancer care, the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) said when announcing its 2023 staffing survey results. At about half of those practices, the lack of adequate staffing is delaying treatment for patients seeking interventional or palliative radiation therapy—and reducing patient navigation services—both of which ultimately influence patient outcomes.

Of the 249 ASTRO members who responded to the survey:

  • 93% reported that their practices are facing shortages of nurses, therapists, physicists, and dosimetrists.
  • 77% said that the shortages are increasing operating costs, which are 23% higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 53% reported that the staff gaps are delaying treatment.
  • 48% said that they’ve been forced to reduce support services such as patient navigation.
  • 44% said that the shortages are increasing patient anxiety.

ASTRO called for advocacy on three key issues:

  • Stability, access, value, and equity for Medicare payment policies
  • Decision-making delegated to patient and provider, not insurance companies
  • Increased funding for cancer research

An ASTRO representative said that the solutions involve expanding training programs, certification, and accreditation and increasing staff retention with appropriate compensation. Acting now is critical, he said, as the U.S. population ages.

“The growing Medicare-aged population is most likely to develop cancers that we would treat with radiation therapy. The last Baby Boomer born in 1964 is going to be turning 65 years old in a few years. Between now and then, the population of patients with cancer is expected to grow commensurately with the Medicare population. We are going to encounter struggles over the rest of the decade to provide our clinics with sufficient qualified staff to render services.”

Supporting a stable and prepared nursing workforce is an ONS legislative priority. Learn more about the issue and how you can raise your voice for the profession—and ultimately your patients.