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Press releases

Cancer Charities Warn Government Is Failing To Address Chronic NHS Staff Shortages

4 min read

MPs have warned that the NHS is not on track to meet the NHS Long Term plan target to diagnose 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028, with chronic cancer workforce shortages meaning the UK is now performing behind other comparable countries for cancer outcomes.

A report published this morning by the Health and Social Care Committee warns that gains made in cancer survival rates may reverse unless action is taken by government, with cancer workforce shortages identified as a leading cause of late diagnosis.

The NHS is currently estimated to be short of 3,371 specialist cancer nurses by 2030, and MPs warn there appears to be “no detailed plan” from government to address shortages in the diagnostic workforce.

In response to the report, Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy stressed its findings highlighted “the impact of the government’s persistent failure to address chronic shortages in NHS staff on people affected by cancer”.

Walker believed Javid’s 10-year plan to improve cancer services provided a “vital opportunity” to drive progress. 

“We need a cancer plan that works for all, and with the right level of investment and accountability we can give people affected by cancer the best outcomes possible – because the best is exactly what they deserve,” he said.  

Andrea Brady recently gave evidence to the Health and Social Care committee inquiry, regarding her daughter Jessica who died aged 27, three and a half weeks after being diagnosed with stage 4 adenocarcinoma, having been repeatedly misdiagnosed by doctors and her GP.

“Jessie was a very gentle, sweet person, but she definitely attributed her late diagnosis to the slow reactions of her GP surgery,” Brady told MPs.

“In GP surgeries, there should be a specialist cancer person, perhaps a highly specialist nurse.” 

The number of fully qualified full-time GPs working in the NHS has reduced by 1,704 since 2015, despite a government commitment to recruit an additional 6,000 GPs by 2024. 

Judith Neptial also gave evidence to the inquiry following her late diagnosis of terminal cancer.

“I had been losing weight and had nausea – general symptoms that I now know are associated with cancer,” she explained. 

“However, because I had an underlying condition my GP constantly referred me back to my consultant, and my consultant constantly referred me back to my GP. This went on for years.”

The government recently announced a £2.3bn investment in 100 new Community Diagnostic Centres, but the Health and Social Care Committee has advised it remains unclear how much additional capacity they will yield, and stress that a specific plan must be drawn up to address gaps in the workforce.

Minesh Patel, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, believes the report should sound the alarm to the government about severe staff shortages.

“Hard working NHS staff were at breaking point even before the pandemic, with cancer nurses continuing to work under immense strain in a system that has never recovered,” Patel said. 

“This is causing huge anxiety for people living with cancer, who aren’t getting the tailored and quality care they need, and face long waits for their treatment, potentially worsening their prognosis.

“After years of failing to deliver the long-term funding and planning that NHS cancer services need, it’s vital that the Government’s upcoming 10-year Cancer Plan includes concrete proposals and investment to urgently increase the number of staff, so that people living with cancer receive the care they desperately need, now and in the years to come.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise that business as usual on cancer is not enough – that’s why we have redoubled our efforts and are developing a 10-Year Cancer Plan to set out how we will lead the world in cancer care.

“With record numbers of nurses and staff overall working in the NHS, we will tackle the Covid backlog and deliver long-term reform, including by reducing waiting times for cancer patients.

“We invested an extra £2 billion in 2021 and £8 billion over the next three years to cut the backlog and deliver an extra nine million checks, scans and operations by 2025. We will also deliver up to 160 community diagnostic centres across the country by 2025, 73 of which are open already.”

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