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Action is needed to tackle the desperate situation facing cancer services

3 min read

The government needs a plan to ensure the long-term resuscitation of the cancer workforce and maintain the standards of care that people deserve nationwide.

Across the last year, as the chair of the APPG on Ovarian Cancer, I have been working with a group of cross-party APPG chairs that focus on cancer, to bring to the government’s attention the worsening situation facing cancer patients as a result of the pandemic.

The legacy of any legislation in this Queen’s Speech would have a lasting impact on the recovery and rebuilding of our NHS.

Yet, I was saddened that there was no reference to cancer services in the Queen’s Speech last week. As I said in my speech, this was a terrible omission.

The BBC suggests that there are 45,000 “missing” cancer patients, of whom almost 10,000 are missing breast cancer patients. This means that fewer people are going to their GP to be checked out, take up screening, or to seek referrals.

Despite 45,000 fewer cancer patients than normal, however, worrying trends have emerged along the treatment chain. According to Macmillan, the number of people being seen by a specialist dropped by 8% from February 2020 to February 2021. Meanwhile, waiting times have increased, with thousands missing the 62-day window from diagnosis to treatment.

NHS services need resources to help “super-boost” capacity above pre-pandemic levels

The disruption to services across the past 14 months has resulted in a worrying ‘backlog’ in services, with 38,500 people not receiving their first treatment for their cancer diagnosis. This would take over 15 months to clear, even if services were running at 110% capacity.

This is without the 45,000 missing cancer patients suddenly presenting.

The scandal of underfunding, high vacancy rates and a failure to invest in diagnostic machines and equipment meant patients were waiting too long for treatment, even before the pandemic struck. The situation facing England's cancer services is now desperate and needs a solution.

Myself alongside the other Cancer APPG chairs, Tonia Antionazzi, Tim Farron, Craig Tracey, Jim Shannon, Amy Callaghan, Derek Thomas, Henry Smith, and Mark Tami, are calling on the government to do everything it can to put patients first to help cancer services recover.

But how?

It is becoming increasingly and devastatingly clear that our cancer workforce is suffering. Concerns have been raised by the Royal College of Radiologists that delays to scans have been worsened by a 33% shortfall in that workforce.

The government must first recognise this, and then act to make sure that this does not spiral into a greater health crisis and to protect lives.

The way to achieve that is with a plan that ensures the long-term resuscitation of the cancer workforce—a plan that will recruit and train, bring jobs and maintain the standards of care that people deserve nationwide.

Our group of Cancer APPG chairs released a funding statement in March which called on the government to recognise that NHS services need resources to help “super-boost” capacity above pre-pandemic levels.

Evidently, this problem is not disappearing any time soon. In the meantime, countless people will receive late treatment and the backlog will continue to grow. Action is needed to make sure that cancer does not become the forgotten C.

 

Sharon Hodgson is the Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West.

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