Labour warns number of patients waiting more than six weeks for life-saving tests has rocketed amid coronavirus pandemic
Vital hospital test delays have skyrocketed due to coronavirus pandemic, Labour says (Credit: PA)
The number of patients having to wait more than six weeks for potentially life-saving diagnostic tests has skyrocketed amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to new analysis by Labour.
The party has tabled an Opposition Day debate in the Commons on Wednesday, which it will use to call for a new plan for the NHS so diagnostic services can re-open quickly and safely.
It comes as NHS England data revealed that of the 840,742 people waiting for tests, more than half (55.7%) are facing a delay longer than the six-week target.
In February 2020, before the pandemic hit, that figure was 2.8%.
Between February and April this year, figures show the number of patients waiting more than six weeks for MRI scans, used to detect tumours throughout the body, increased by more than 70,000.
Meanwhile, there was a 520% increase in patients facing a long wait for a colonoscopy and a 722% increase in those waiting for a sigmoidoscopy – both used to detect bowel cancer. The number waiting for a Cystoscopy, used to detect bladder cancer, also increased by 545%.
Mr Ashworth said: “Ministers tell us the NHS has ‘coped’ through the Covid-19 peak, but that was on the back of cancelled operations, delayed scans and diagnostic tests.
“Estimates suggest two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment and that 1,600 cases of cancer are currently left undiagnosed every month.”
The frontbencher will force a vote in the Commons calling for a plan to deal with the backlog, a routine weekly testing programme for NHS and social care staff to enable routine services to safely resume, and a functional test and trace system to be operational ahead of the busy winter season for hospitals.
The government was forced to go back to the drawing board with its test and trace app last week, after the original version failed to work properly.
“It’s now urgent ministers bring forward a plan to tackle the backlog in non Covid-19 care,” Mr Ashworth added.
“A vital component would be the introduction of weekly routine testing of all NHS staff to keep them and patients safe from Covid-19 while receiving treatment. We’re calling on MPs to support this motion to tackle the rapidly growing queues of their constituents waiting for treatment.”
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact this global pandemic has had on NHS services and the challenges faced as we start to restore them in a safe way.
“We will continue to ensure the NHS has everything it needs to provide the high quality care the public expect and we have already provided a significant number of new CT scanners, x-ray machines and portable ultrasounds as part of the response to Covid-19. This is on top of £200 million provided for new state of the art diagnostic machines such as MRI machines and cancer screening equipment.
“NHS trusts will continue to routinely and strategically test asymptomatic frontline staff.”