Health workers face six-month battle to clear the UK’s cancer backlog

Health workers face a six-month battle to clear the UK’s ‘frightening’ cancer backlog caused by coronavirus pandemic, MPs warn

  • Cancer backlog will only clear if treatments run at 135% capacity for six months 
  • Charity Action Radiotherapy warned that the UK is ‘past the point of no return’
  • There are concerns around 55,000 cancer patients could die without action

The country’s ‘frightening’ cancer backlog will only clear if treatments run at 135 per cent capacity for six months. 

The chairmen of four cancer-related all-party parliamentary groups wrote to the Health Secretary over concerns that an estimated 55,000 cancer patients could die without urgent action. 

Research from charity Action Radiotherapy calculated that cancer services would have to run at 135 per cent capacity for six months to clear the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Founder Professor Pat Price has warned the UK is ‘past the point of no return’ and it is inevitable patients will die unnecessarily. 

A letter co-signed by Tim Farron has raised concerns that an estimated 55,000 cancer patients could die without urgent action

A letter co-signed by Tim Farron has raised concerns that an estimated 55,000 cancer patients could die without urgent action

The letter was signed by former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron, Conservative MP Henry Smith and Labour MPs Tonia Antoniazzi and Mark Tami. 

It read: ‘The reality of the situation is that without an urgent boost to services to catch up, the only way the backlog disappears is through patients dying.

‘Stories left on the campaign website make harrowing reading and show the individual suffering, particularly of those dying without access to any treatment.

‘We are concerned that we are nowhere near being halfway to clearing this overall backlog.’ 

‘That is why we are exceptionally keen that every avenue to boost, rather than to just reinstate, cancer services is explored.’

Speaking in the House of Commons on September 8, Mr Hancock said the cancer backlog had come down by half.

But campaigners and politicians believe the overall cancer backlog is much greater than initially thought.

They claim the government estimates do not include people with cancer who have relapsed or those undiagnosed and still waiting to be diagnosed.

Charity Action Radiotherapy calculated that cancer treatments would have to run at 135% for six months to clear the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic (file photo)

Charity Action Radiotherapy calculated that cancer treatments would have to run at 135% for six months to clear the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic (file photo)

Action for Radiotherapy analysed the latest figures from Cancer Research to calculate the expected number of new cancer patients needing treatment in the UK each year, as well those who have relapsed and need treatment.

A total of 213,622 cancer patients are expected to have needed treatment between March and August 2020, according to the charity.

Action Radiotherapy claim the UK’s true cancer backlog is 86,122 after the total number of patients was subtracted from the number thought to have started treatment between the same period. 

It said cancer services would have to run at 135 per cent capacity over six months for the UK to catch up and treat these patients.

Professor Price said: ‘We are past the point of no return for this cancer crisis. It’s no longer a question of ‘will cancer patients die unnecessarily’ but ‘how many will die unnecessarily?’.

‘There is so much suffering. Unless a massive effort is deployed right now, the only way the cancer backlog goes away is if people don’t get the diagnosis and treatment they need.

Matt Hancock, speaking in the House of Commons on September 8, said the cancer backlog had come down by half but campaigners say the backlog is greater than initially thought

Matt Hancock, speaking in the House of Commons on September 8, said the cancer backlog had come down by half but campaigners say the backlog is greater than initially thought

‘This is a shocking state of affairs. We know that in order to halt this cancer catastrophe we need cancer services running at 135%.’ 

Mr Farron said: ‘The government need to step up to the plate otherwise tens of thousands will die unnecessarily.

‘Mr Hancock’s answer risks giving people a false sense of security. He is failing to take seriously what is a serious problem ‘Every day we leave it, the cancer crisis grows.

‘My sense is that we genuinely run the risk of losing more people to cancer unnecessarily than Covid.’

‘There is not the attempt to clear the backlog and make it a national mission.’

And Ms Antoniazzi said: ‘We cannot be in denial about the numbers anymore. The only way this backlog goes away is with action and resources deployed to tackle it otherwise we will lose more people to cancer than the coronavirus itself.’ 

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