The National Audit Office (NAO) has this week identified that up to 740,000 urgent referrals for suspected cancer were missed by GPs in England during the course of the pandemic with one Oncologist calling the situation ‘the biggest cancer catastrophe ever to hit the NHS’.
NHS England say that, during the pandemic, 450,000 people started treatment for cancer. However, the NAO report suggests that this is up to 60,000 fewer people than would ordinarily have been expected. In addition, for those that did start treatment, this was often delayed longer than would ordinarily have been expected. For example, between March 2020 and September 2021, 26% of patients waited longer than the recommended 62 day limit (from referral to treatment commencing).
My earlier blog (7 October 2021) made some comment on the measures that the government intends to make to help cut back on the backlog of patients seeking help. This included spending an extra £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years to cut waiting times. However, with the emergence of new variants, and the likely associated increased pressures on the NHS, Professor Pat Price, co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign has pleaded with the government to “urgently outline how additional funding will be spent on cancer treatments, backlog busting technologies, like radiotherapy, and the cancer workforce".
The country will watch on as the government sets out its plans in the coming weeks and months but, with the NAO’s warning that things are likely to get worse before they get better, it is an extremely concerning situation for cancer patients who often do not have the luxury of time.
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