Jeremy Hunt: NHS staff shortages can affect cancer patients treatment

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The Commons health and social care committee found there was “no detailed plan” to address shortages. A lack of clinical oncologists, consultant pathologists, radiologists and specialist cancer nurses – as well as the impact of Covid – means the NHS is not on track to meet its target of diagnosing three-quarters of cancers at early stages by 2028, it said.

Committee chairman and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt 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 added that “the damaging and prolonged impact of the pandemic” may mean “gains made in cancer survival will go into reverse”.

The committee’s cancer services inquiry is looking into why England lags behind many comparable countries for outcomes of the disease.

MPs cited estimates that the NHS is short of 189 clinical oncologists, 390 consultant pathologists and 1,939 radiologists – and by 2030 will be down 3,371 specialist cancer nurses.

In the first year of the pandemic, 326,000 fewer people in England received an urgent referral for suspected cancer, while 4.6 million fewer key diagnostic tests were carried out.

#CatchUpWithCancer co-founder Professor Pat Price said: “The UK was at the bottom of the cancer league tables before the pandemic…the Covid-induced backlog has pushed us towards complete collapse.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We recognise that business as usual on cancer is not enough – that’s why we have redoubled our efforts and are developing a 10-year cancer plan to set out how we will lead the world in cancer care.

“We invested an extra £2billion in 2021 and £8billion over the next three years to cut the backlog and deliver an extra nine million checks, scans and operations by 2025.”

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