From the 19th to 21st November UKONS hosted our first ever virtual conference on the theme of ‘Nursing at the Core of Cancer Care’. We had chosen this theme in celebration of the WHO ‘Year of the Nurse’ but also the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. Little did we know at the time that nursing would be thrust into the fore-front of everyone’s minds by March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK and NHS workers were lauded as national heroes.
Another effect of the pandemic was to force us into deciding to postpone our planned conference in Belfast and reschedule for November 2021, replacing this year’s conference with our first completely virtual event.
We were uncertain that this would really provide the usual focus for our yearly work and an opportunity for UKONS members to come together, but with the fantastic help of our media partners and secretariat provider Media1 the conference has proved a spectacular success with the conference virtual platform being both reliable and easy to navigate.
If we look at our evaluations, we can see that 356 people attended the conference, which is broadly in line with our normal attendance, and we had 78 posters submitted (also in line with previous years). We are pleased to say that the event was very well evaluated overall with 92% of delegated rating it either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ (4 or 5). No-one rated it below 3 (good).
On the Thursday, following UKONS president Dr Verna Lavender formally opening the conference and EONS President Andreas Charalambous took to the stage to talk about the challenges of addressing shortages in the nursing workforce across Europe and to call for a unified response to this major issue. Following this Rosie Walworth, Policy Officer from Macmillan outlined how the charity had modelled the shortfall of specialist oncology nurses, both currently and by 2030. This was a quite sobering presentation but gave us an idea of the struggles ahead (the ‘Addressing the Gap’ document is available here https://www.macmillan.org.uk/_images/addressing-the-gap-report_tcm9-358808.pdf).
In the afternoon the two remaining plenary sessions featured UKONS Board member Lisa Barrott and her pharmacist colleague Fleur Harvey discussing their project from the Royal Marsden to teach patients to self-administer a range of sub-cutaneous medications; following this Mark Foulkes and Helen Roe spoke about their separate experiences of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic from the point of view of cancer nurses and what we can learn from it. As we were not able to indulge in our normal conference Friday night blend of networking and dancing we staged a quiz for all delegates run by professional quizmasters ‘The Big Smoke’. This was tremendous fun and it resulted in a deserved victory for Alison Taylor (Acute Oncology Nurse Consultant).
The second day of the conference began with a fantastic array of oral presentations by some of our poster authors under different headings. This was one of the strongest sections of the conference which worked really well in the virtual format. There were a broad range of presentations with subjects ranging from a stratified approach to managing neutropaenic sepsis in acute oncology to setting up a ‘research café’ where researchers could meet patients in a relaxed environment.
The day concluded with an excellent presentation by Professor Chair of Workforce and Workforce Modelling at the University of the South Bank. She made an impassioned plea for the protection of the role of the nurse and outlined why nurses are crucial to maintaining patient safety. This was our highest evaluated session of the conference and led to much debate both in the conference and on Twitter later on!
The final day of the conference saw Dr Vanessa Taylor and Professor Diana Greenfield jointly presenting the two UKONS-badged career and education frameworks which have recently been reviewed and updated. These two documents provide competencies and structure for role development across most cancer nursing roles and the presenters illustrated how these could be used in practical nursing settings. Once again, this session was very well evaluated by delegates.
Our interactive break-out sessions also proved very popular with delegates with UKONS board members chairing clusters of presentations on the theme of ‘Evolving Roles in the Changing Workforce’, ‘Clinical Leadership in Cancer Care’ and ‘Navigating Professional Development’. These were attended by relatively equal numbers of delegates and were able to be run concurrently on the conference platform. There was generally good feedback on all of these sessions.
The UKONS poster awards were presented by Lisa Barrott, the winners being:
1st Prize Poster: Ana Reis and Alice Andrews – ‘The Role of the Acute Oncology Team in the MASCC Project’
2nd Prize Poster: Jonathan Abbott – ‘A Feasibility Study of Cancer Nurse Telephone Triage for Suspected Cancers During the COVID Pandemic’
3rd Prize Poster: Gemma Oliver – ‘Improving Cancer Patient Experience Through an Innovative 8a Leadership Programme’
Young/Early Career Cancer Nurse Poster Award: Nuno Correia – ‘The changing Face of CNS Support to Myeloma Patients during COVID-19’
These posters were voted for by the delegates.
Dr Verna Lavender closed the academic programme with a moving tribute to colleagues we have lost through COVID and also marked the retirement from the board of Sandra Campbell who has completed 6 years.
In addition to the academic programme the conference featured four sponsored sessions by our industry partners. Largely these were successful, well attended and well evaluated.
The virtual exhibition hall worked very well, and despite the relatively low numbers of exhibitors these were broadly of a high standard with some good quality patient-centred material and resources.
The next UKONS conference will be a ‘face to face’ event and will take place in Belfast on 12-13 November 2021 – Hold the date!