Meet the team… Karen Stenlund, Workforce Lead

Hello, I’m Karen and I’m the Workforce Lead for the Northern Cancer Alliance.

I first started working in the NHS over 35 years ago in an administrative position … in the days before mobile phones and laptops! After a few years I was managing clinical coding and clinical audit/governance teams and in the late 1990’s had my first encounter with cancer services when we were asked to start collecting cancer data.  At the time we were told it would be a one-off activity and that it would not take up too much time… the following year we had a full-time person focusing on cancer data in the clinical audit team and the rest is history!

From that point until now I have predominantly worked in cancer focused roles, which have included Primary Care Project Lead for the NENC Cancer Network, Commissioning Manager for Cancer and Palliative Care in South Tyneside PCT and latterly working in the voluntary sector at Macmillan Cancer Support before returning to the NHS in this role in 2021.

I think all of us are aware of the current workforce issues we have across health and social care. For several years the cancer workforce has struggled with key staff shortages across a number of clinical/medical areas and was under significant pressure before covid. We are now facing the legacy of covid with backlogs and waiting lists and the cancer workforce are struggling to meet the challenging targets to recover cancer services and waiting times.

Workforce is complex and requires understanding of the issues facing all cancer professionals who come into contact with patients and people affected by cancer such as: workforce capacity; appropriately skilled professionals and access to learning opportunities; equity of service provision across the NCA footprint and also ensuring the workforce are supported from a Health and Wellbeing perspective.  All of these, in turn, underpin the provision of good patient care and ultimately improve outcomes for patients.

In this role there is a requirement to work effectively with partners across North East and North Cumbria, region and national organisations including Health Education England, NHS England, diagnostic networks, educational providers, patients and carers.

We now have a workforce strategy on our website and are engaged in a number of initiatives including the Macmillan Workforce Development Programme and the South Tyneside and Sunderland Foundation Trust CNS Internship. We are also undertaking a workforce review for cancer nursing and in 23/24 will be developing a series of masterclasses, workshops and webinars for our Northern Cancer Alliance Clinical Leads and MDT Leads.

In 23/24 we are supporting the roll out of the Health Education England Aspirant Cancer Career Education and Development (ACCEND) Framework which is a transformational cancer career and education development programme that supports aspirant cancer nurses and allied health professionals towards increasing their knowledge, skills and capability. This will increase and improve the supply of the cancer health care professional workforce in the future.

As part of the ACCEND work the Northern Cancer Alliance recently hosted a webinar. There will also be a number of other ACCEND related activities throughout the year.  If anyone has any queries on anything mentioned above, please contact myself at