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NHS cancer services ‘underfunded and understaffed’

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Diagnostic equipment for conditions such as breast Diagnostic equipment for conditions such as breast cancer are aging

A lack of resources and staff for NHS cancer services is leading to patient’s missing out on early diagnosis of the disease, two reports by Cancer Research UK have found.

The first report focused on the provision of endoscopy and imaging services when diagnosing cancer. It found that approximately 750,000 extra endoscopies will need to be performed each year in the UK by 2020, a rise of 44% compared with 2015. This increase in demand for the services is due to the ageing population, meaning more people will need to have symptoms of cancer tested. However, a shortage of diagnostic clinicians such as nurse endoscopists may prevent this from being achieved.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director for early diagnosis, said: ‘The state of NHS diagnostic services is deeply concerning – and new GP referral guidelines from NICE mean that even more patients will be waiting for these tests. There aren’t enough trained staff, they’re often reliant on outdated equipment and in many cases they’re already operating services seven days a week.'

The second report, produced in collaboration with the agency 2020 Delivery, a consultancy in improving public services, examined the state of the NHS’ diagnostic equipment for cancer. It found that the diagnostic equipment currently in use is ageing. To replace this, the report estimates that £215 million will be required in the future.

Dr Giles Maskell, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: ‘Well-resourced testing services are crucial to the early diagnosis of cancer, which in turn is vital to increase survival from the disease. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances that it can be cured.’

Cancer Research UK is calling on the government to increase funding for diagnostic services for cancer, in order to improve the speed of diagnosis, which will in turn save lives. The charity states that by 2020, 95% of patients should have a diagnosis or have cancer ruled out within four weeks of referral from general practice.

Dr Maskell added: ‘The concerns highlighted in these reports aren’t just limited to cancer patients – they apply to everyone who uses these services and also include patients being monitored for any changes in their condition. We need a commitment to greater investment in these services to meet the demand and increase survival.’

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