Staffing problems underpinning Government failure in meeting cancer commitments – report

Ministers are not meeting their commitments to improve cancer care in England, a new report has concluded.

Experts advising MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee examined the pledges the Government had made to improve cancer outcomes for patients.

They found that staffing issues were underpinning a lack of progress towards the goals of faster diagnosis, more personalised care for patients and treatment ambitions.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre (pictured), chair of the expert panel and former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “It is clear that cancer services are facing overwhelming pressure.

“We identified one recurrent theme – shortages of professional staff across cancer services are undermining achievement across every commitment we looked at.”

She added: “Our evaluation has also uncovered stark inequalities across cancer types and different regions in the country, not only on diagnosis but in what that will mean for their chances of survival.”

The report states that workforce shortages “undermined achievement” of the Government’s ambitions.

The authors said that there was “encouraging” investment and funding in equipment used to diagnose cancer but not enough staff to run the machines, interpret screening results and deliver innovative treatments.

Meanwhile personalised care provisions were “patchy” and there were not enough staff in place to provide the level of care patients expected.

The authors said that cancer services had often been “pushed to their very limits in terms of recourses” even before the Covid-19 pandemic, and they are now facing “overwhelming pressure”.

Commenting on the report, Eve Byrne, director of advocacy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This report brings into sharp focus just how devastating the NHS workforce shortage is, and highlights the sheer lack of realistic targets in place to fill the gaps.

“We know that the shortage of cancer professionals is the common theme underpinning the raft of issues facing cancer care currently. Record numbers of people are still facing unacceptably long waits for cancer diagnosis and treatment, causing huge amounts of worry and distress.

“It is vital that the Government tackles this once and for all by guaranteeing that the upcoming 10-year Cancer Plan includes the long overdue plans for the staff needed to tackle the cancer care backlog, and ensure everybody gets the care they need now and in the future.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Cancer care is in crisis.

“I know from my own treatment how important an early diagnosis is when it comes to cancer.

“The Conservatives say they are declaring a ‘war on cancer’, but they’ve spent the last 12 years disarming the NHS.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are supporting the NHS to prioritise reducing cancer waiting times, giving people the treatment they need and tackling the Covid backlog.

“Business as usual is not enough and that’s why we have redoubled our efforts in our fight against cancer and are developing a 10-Year Cancer Plan to set out how we will lead the world in cancer care.

“To deliver long-term recovery and reform, our record investment in the NHS included an extra £2 billion in 2021 and £8 billion over the next three years to cut waiting times, including delivering an extra nine million checks, scans and operations.”

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