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MPs slam Government for missing cancer care targets

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Early diagnosis of cancer is critical to survival MPs warn that over 300,000 patients could miss out on an early cancer diagnosis

The absence of a ‘serious effort’ by the Government to tackle gaps in the cancer workforce is jeopardising earlier diagnosis, a report by the Health and Social Care Committee has said.

According to the report, the NHS is not on track to meet its target on early cancer diagnosis. Without progress, that would mean more than 340,000 people between 2019 and 2028 missing out on an early cancer diagnosis.

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. Its evaluation also rated progress to diagnose 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028 as inadequate.

MPs on the Committee say there appears 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.

‘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,’ said Jeremy Hunt, Health and Social Care Committee Chair and former Health Secretary.

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‘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.’

Earlier diagnosis is identified as the most effective way of improving overall survival rates. For example, diagnosing bowel cancer at stage 1 means that 90% of people will live for five years compared to just 10% of people diagnosed at stage 4.

The NHS Long Term Plan set a target to diagnose 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028. On the basis of evidence supplied to the Committee by the Government and the NHS, MPs do not believe the NHS is on track to meet the 75% early diagnosis ambition set by the Government. The Committee’s independent Expert Panel also rated the Government's progress against this target as 'inadequate'.

Modelling submitted by Cancer Research UK predicts that a static early diagnosis rate until 2028 would mean 343,000 more people receiving a late diagnosis between 2019 and 2028 than if the target was met. In 2028 alone, 65,700 people would miss out on an early diagnosis.

‘“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,’ added Mr Hunt.

‘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. Unfortunately, many more lives will almost certainly end prematurely without earlier diagnosis and prompt treatment. That is why we are calling on the Government and the NHS to act now to address gaps in the cancer workforce upon which success depends. To date we have found little evidence of a serious effort to do so.’

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