MPs lambast lack of ‘serious effort’ on cancer workforce shortages

The health and social care committee have blasted the government’s absence of a serious effort by government to tackle gaps in the cancer workforce.

The committee is represented by MPs who claim this is jeopardising early diagnosis, which is the key to improving overall survival rates.

MPs in England raise alarm about the continuing and damaging effects of the pandemic. They also warn of the real danger that gains in cancer survival could be reversed.

The evidence provided by the NHS and the government to the committee shows that the NHS is not on track to reach its goal of early cancer diagnosis. This would result in more than 340,000 people missing out on early cancer diagnosis between 2019-2028 if there is no progress.


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Overall progress made by the government against targets on cancer services in England was rated as ‘inadequate’ last week by the committee’s Expert Panel. It also assessed progress in diagnosing 75% of cancers at the stage 1 or 2 level by 2028 as inadequate.

MPs say there appeared to be ‘no detailed plan’ to address shortages of clinical oncologists, consultant pathologists, radiologists and specialist cancer nurses with gaps threatening diagnosis, treatment and research equally.

Despite some improvements in cancer survival rates over the past year, England still lags behind countries like Canada and Australia. Comparatively, fewer people in England will be diagnosed with stomach cancer or colon cancer within five years.

Committee chair Jeremy Hunt MP 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.

“We do not believe that the NHS is on track to meet the government’s target on early cancer diagnosis by 2028, reinforced by our Expert Panel’s rating that progress against this target is inadequate.

“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.

“A mother told us of her 27-year-old daughter’s five-month struggle to get a diagnosis of cancer – tragically she died three weeks after it came. Many more lives could be lost if they are not treated promptly and diagnosed earlier. We are calling on the NHS and the government to immediately address the gaps in the workforce for cancer care. To date we have found little evidence of a serious effort to do so.”

Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy said in light of the news: “This report highlights the impact of the Government’s persistent failure to address chronic shortages in NHS staff on people affected by cancer.

“Sajid Javid’s 10-year plan is a vital opportunity to address the problems facing cancer services and drive forward progress. We need a cancer plan that works for all, and with the right level of investment and accountability we can give people affected by cancer the best outcomes possible – because the best is exactly what they deserve.”