Tens of thousands in UK on the wait for cancer treatment
The UK's shortage of staff is not helping cancer patients' situation.
According to NHS figures, tens of thousands of patients are still waiting to start cancer treatment in England due to the disruption of the healthcare system during the pandemic, as medical charities demanded that the government tackle staff shortage in the health service.
Upon the rise of the pandemic in 2020, cancer referrals decreased - however, in the past year, the number of people being screened for cancer bounced back, rising from 2.4 million to 2.66 million, according to NHS England and NHS Improvement.
However, while referrals have surged, the number of patients getting treatment for the disease has risen modestly, from 313,000 pre-COVID to 315,000 in the past year, according to figures.
“We have seen record numbers of people coming forward for checks in the last year, but we know there are still at least 30,000 who haven’t started treatment due to the pandemic, so it’s vital that we keep these referral rates high,” Dame Cally Palmer, the national cancer director for NHS England, said
The NHS has so far been spending double on cancer awareness campaigns, investing in cancer symptom hotlines, mobile clinics, and one-stop shops for cancer checks, aiming to spot cancer within its early stages when surgical removal of tumors is often successful.
However, while the numbers suggest progress, medical charities have their criticisms: It is important that the government fix the chronic understaffing issue in hospitals and clinics and work on increasing the number of cancer specialists in the NHS.
“It is reassuring to see record numbers of people coming forward with cancer symptoms for these lifesaving checks. However, people living with cancer are often missing out on crucial care as a result of chronic NHS understaffing," Minesh Patel, the head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said.
“To avoid putting further pressure on hardworking doctors and nurses, it’s vital the government includes steps in the upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan to grow the number of cancer professionals, so that people living with cancer receive the quality and timely care they desperately need,” he said.
Last month, MPs in the House of Commons health and social care committee criticized the government's failure in dealing with staff shortage in the NHS, arguing and warning that hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in the UK are subject to late diagnoses, which reduces survival rates.
Between 2019 and 2028, 340,000 patients would be denied early cancer diagnosis.