Wednesday, 1 Feb 2023

NHS will take five years to clear cancer backlog, charity warns

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Some 32,000 fewer patients have started care than would usually be expected since the start of the pandemic, it was said. Macmillan Cancer Support suggests the backlog will not be shifted until 2027 if the NHS is unable to accelerate the catch-up and identify the “missing” cases.

The charity is now urging the Government to outline plans to address the problem in the upcoming 10-year Cancer Plan, due later this year.

Lynda Thomas, Macmillan’s chief executive, said: “It is deeply troubling to see thousands of people still facing unacceptably long waits for a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“We are hearing every day from people who are experiencing huge amounts of anxiety and distress that any delays could impact their health and chances of recovery.

“Everyone deserves high quality care that addresses all of their needs.

“But right now, the NHS does not have enough cancer professionals to provide this support and people living with cancer are facing detrimental effects to their physical health and overall wellbeing as a result.”

Projections suggest that the backlog could be cleared by early 2024 if the NHS was able to increase the number of people receiving their first treatment to five percent above pre-pandemic levels.

If it could be increased to 10 percent above those levels, the queue could be cleared by early 2023.

But the charity said the number of people being diagnosed has stalled in recent months.

Macmillan said it was vital to identify the tens of thousands of people currently “missing” a cancer diagnosis because of Covid-19 disruption.

Then they can start treatment and have the best chances of survival. The charity said thousands of patients are still stuck in a backlogged system, suffering from disruption and delays.

And hardworking NHS staff are already exhausted and burnt out, it said.

Ms Thomas added: “The upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan must address this.

“Otherwise, despite the very best efforts of hardworking NHS professionals, people living with cancer risk being left without vital care.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has pledged to “declare a national war on cancer” to improve early diagnosis and survival rates.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are improving outcomes for cancer patients across England and our new 10-Year Cancer Plan will set out how we will lead Europe in cancer care.

“Our plan to tackle the Covid backlog and reduce cancer waiting times includes rolling out up to 160 community diagnostic centres across the country – with 88 already open and over 800,000 additional scans delivered.

“And our record investment in the NHS will help deliver an extra nine million checks, scans and operations by 2025.

“There are record numbers of doctors, nurses and overall staff working in the NHS, and we are over halfway towards meeting our commitment to recruiting 50,000 additional nurses by 2024.”

The Daily Express previously reported that a record 2.7 million had joined the queue for cancer diagnosis and care.

The 2,657,316 referrals between March 2021 and February this year is up on the 2.4 million sent for checks in the time before the pandemic.

But only 2,207,293 were seen within 62 days.

The NHS said 95 percent of cancer patients should wait no longer than that to begin treatment after an urgent referral from a GP.

The target has not been met for six years.

World-leading oncologist and Daily Express columnist Professor Karol Sikora said: “The urgency of the cancer crisis is there for all to see and it is devastating.

“What we need are tangible solutions which can deliver for tens of thousands of people.”

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