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Years of decline in NHS cancer and elective care

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Years of decline in NHS cancer and elective care As of September 2021, there were between 7.6 million and 9.1 million missing referrals of patients for elective care and between 240,000 and 740,000 missing urgent referrals for suspected cancer

The Department for Health and Social Care has ‘overseen years of decline in the NHS’s cancer and elective care waiting time performance,’ a report by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has stated.

According to the committee’s report, the NHS has not met the 18-week maximum waiting time standard for elective care since February 2016 nor the eight key standards for cancer care in totality since 2014.

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At the end of December 2021, 6.07 million patients were waiting for ‘elective’ care - such as hip or knee replacements or cataract surgery - the biggest waiting list since records began.

The legal standard for elective care states that 92% of people on the waiting list should be seen within 18 weeks, but only 64% (3.87 million) of these patients have been waiting less than that, and 311,000 have now been waiting for more than a year. Even before the pandemic only 83% were being seen within 18 weeks.

‘DHSC has overseen a long-term decline in elective and critical cancer care that is dragging our National Health Service and the heroic staff down. We on PAC are now extremely concerned that there is no real plan to turn a large cash injection, for elective care and capital costs of dangerously crumbling facilities, into better outcomes for people waiting for life-saving or quality-of-life improving treatment,’ said Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

‘Nor is it obvious that the Department finally understands that it’s biggest problem, and the only solution to all its problems, is the way it manages its greatest resource: our heroic NHS staff. Exhausted and demoralised, they’ve emerged from two hellish years only to face longer and longer lists of sicker people. And this is compounded by staffing shortages in a number of professional areas.’

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As of September 2021, there were between 7.6 million and 9.1 million missing referrals of patients for elective care and between 240,000 and 740,000 missing urgent referrals for suspected cancer. People will face serious health consequences as a result of delays in treatment, with some dying earlier and many living with pain or discomfort for longer.

"The committee are right to highlight the desperate under-staffing that is undermining our members' attempts to give safe and effective care. They have also reminded ministers that far too little was done about this before the pandemic started and that we – nursing and patients – are paying the price,' said RCN England director Patricia Marquis.

'The nursing shortages are contributing to treatment delays, delays which this report highlights mean many patients are living with pain or discomfort for longer or even dying earlier. Experienced nursing staff who stayed in the profession during the pandemic are now leaving in greater numbers. One of the simplest ways to keep more staff is a fair pay rise that recognises their professional skill.'

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