NHS: Cancer backlog to be cleared by March 2022

pharmafile | July 14, 2021 | News story | Research and Development  

NHS chiefs have announced plans to clear the backlog of cancer patients caused by the pandemic by March 2022.

Due to restrictions and concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is estimated that around 36,000 did not come forward for early diagnosis last year.

There has also been a significant drop in people coming forward with lung cancer due to the crossover with COVID-19 and lung scans being accelerated.

Furthermore, there are around 16,000 people currently waiting over 62 days for a diagnosis, and sadly 12% of these people will have cancer.

Dame Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for NHS England, told a committee of MPs that during the COVID pandemic there had been “an issue of not wanting to bother the NHS or being concerned to come forward”.

“It is important we have the diagnostic and treatment capacity to address that.”

She also said there had been significant investment in radiotherapy and diagnostic kit with cancer being “treated as a priority” next to backlogs for other operations to replace hips and knees, for example.

Although there had been a noticeable drop in people referred to cancer specialists during 2020, referrals and treatments have been above normal levels since March 2021, she added.

The NHS yesterday announced a £20 million investment to speed up cancer diagnosis, as cancer survivals rates in the UK lag behind other leading nations by 10 to 15 years.

‘Skin snaps’ and rapid tests for same day diagnosis are among a package of measures to get more people checked for cancer, the NHS has announced.

Teledermatology is being used to diagnose skin cancer faster, with pictures taken by a medical photographer sent to hospitals so diagnosis and treatment can happen quickly. The technology has already been used in Leeds, York and Mid-Yorkshire – with a doctor reviewing an image of the patient’s skin for diagnosis.

New efforts to speed up diagnosis for prostate cancer are also seeing patients referred directly for an MRI scan by nurses, rather than having to wait for an appointment with a consultant. This has reduced multiple visits to a single visit, with all diagnostic tests carried out on the same day.

Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer in England, said: “We know that some people were reluctant to seek help during the pandemic so it is good news that we are now seeing higher numbers coming forward for checks.

“Cancer hasn’t gone away during the pandemic and we would rather see you sooner with a cancer that can be easily treated, than later with one that may be more difficult.

“Our message remains the same – if you have a worrying symptom, please do get it checked – the NHS is ready for you”.

Kat Jenkins

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