NHS cancer backlog could take five years to clear, experts warn

‘I wasn’t considered a likely candidate for cancer at 36’, says Liane who now has just six months to live

<p>Research suggests cancer treatements have ‘stalled’  </p>

Research suggests cancer treatements have ‘stalled’

Thousands of cancer patients will be left waiting for years to come as the NHS may not be able to clear backlogs until 2027, experts have warned.

Cancer treatment in England has “stalled” in recent months and if the NHS does not improve beyond the current levels it will not be able to address the huge backlogs in care, according to an analysis by charity Macmillan Cancer Support.

According to new figures, analysed by the charity, in February 2022 the number of people who should have begun treatment for cancer was 32,000 less than expected.

The charity said if the rate stays the same it will take the NHS until September 2027 to clear the growing backlog.

This figure is four years longer than previous estimates, which were based on assumptions the NHS would be able to treat 10 per cent more patients than it did prior to the pandemic. However, Macmillan’s latest analysis shows this is not being met.

The analysis of government data showed the number of people being treated after a diagnosis has “stalled” since May 2021. Macmillan said there were signs people with cancer are now more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.

The news comes after research from Cancer Reseach UK showed more than 68,000 people each month were being left waiting too long, more than 28 days, for a cancer diagnosis.

Last month the Common’s Health Committee warned it had found very little evidence of “serious effort” on the part of the government to address the workforce gaps across cancer services, which mean it is not possible to improve diagnosis and treatment times.

One woman affected by long delays, called Liane, only has six months to live. She is just 37 years old and a mother to three children.

She fold Macmillan: “I wasn’t considered a likely candidate for cancer at 36 and walked out of my GP surgery more than once being told I had haemorrhoids. I didn’t push for more investigations. If I’d been given a blood test, I might have got into the system sooner."

“What I’ve been through can’t happen to anyone else. Catching cancer early is so important. I would implore anybody experiencing signs and symptoms to be persistent and really push for answers if they’re experiencing any cancer symptoms.”

Chief executive for Macmilllan Cancer Support 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.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson 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.”

An NHS spokesperson, said: “Many of the people who haven’t started treatment are people who haven’t yet come forward for checks so it’s vital that people continue to seek help at the earliest sign or symptom that could indicate cancer.

“The NHS is investing billions in extra diagnostic and treatment capacity so that patients are seen quickly and their cancers caught earlier, as well as doubling spending on cancer campaigns to continue the recent record numbers of people receiving lifesaving cancer checks.”

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