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Warning 340,000 cancer patients could be diagnosed late amid NHS staff shortages

‘Progress is being jeopardised by staff shortages which threaten both diagnosis and treatment,’ Jeremy Hunt says

Zoe Tidman
Tuesday 05 April 2022 09:41 BST
NHS workforce shortages are threatening progress on early diagnoses, MPs say
NHS workforce shortages are threatening progress on early diagnoses, MPs say (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

More than 340,000 cancer patients could be diagnosed late due to NHS staff shortages, according to a new report by MPs.

The health and social care committee said early diagnosis - which is key to survival rates - was being threated by gaps in the workforce.

It said the NHS looked set to miss a government target, with hundreds of thousands of patients facing delays between 2019 and 2028 as a result.

The new report on cancer services also highlighted disruption from the Covid pandemic - including later approaches to doctors with symptoms and delayed treatments - and said this would lead to many lives ending “prematurely”.

It said “vital” cancer surgeries were still being cancelled during the latest wave of the virus.

On staff shortages, the MPs said: “Neither earlier diagnosis nor additional prompt cancer treatment will be possible without addressing gaps in the cancer workforce and we found little evidence of a serious effort to do this.”

They said the NHS estimates it is short of 189 clinical oncologists, 390 consultant pathologists and 1,939 radiologists on a full-time equivalent basis. By 2030, the health services estimates it will be short of mroe than 3,300 specialist cancer nurses.

“There appears to be no detailed plan to address such shortages which threaten diagnosis, treatment and research equally,” the report said.

Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary and committee chair, said: “Earlier cancer diagnosis is the key to improving overall survival rates however progress is being jeopardised by staff shortages which threaten both diagnosis and treatment.”

He said the committee did not believe the NHS is “on track” to meet a target for 75 per cent of cancer diagnoses being early by 2028.

“We are further concerned at the damaging and prolonged impact of the pandemic on cancer services with a real risk that gains made in cancer survival will go into reverse,” he said.

The Tory MP said the committee wanted the government and NHS “act now to address gaps in the cancer workforce upon which success depends“.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it was developing a “10-Year Cancer Plan” which would @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,” they added.

An NHS England spokesperson said it continued to implement new ways to diagnose cancer earlier during the pandemic, including extending lung health checks in supermarket car parks, and had seen referrals for cancer checks at “record highs” over the last 11 months.

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