GPs referred nearly three million patients for cancer investigation in England last in the last year, the highest number on record.
But NHS England admitted at least 30,000 patients have not yet started treatment due to the pandemic backlog.
NHS England data showed that:
- 2.65 million patients were referred for cancer investigation between March 2021 and February 2022, up from 2.4 million before the pandemic.
- Around 11,000 patients were getting checked every day during the last 12 months.
- Around 315,000 patients started treatment, compared to 313,000 patients prior to the pandemic.
It comes as earlier this year, the Government suggested that patients who think they may have cancer could be given the option to self-refer for investigation without the need for a GP referral.
NHS England national cancer director Dame Cally Palmer said: ‘We have seen record numbers of people coming forward for checks in the last year, but we know there are still at least 30,000 who haven’t started treatment due to the pandemic, so it’s vital that we keep these referral rates high.
‘While we know this can’t happen overnight, we’re investing in extra diagnostic and treatment capacity to meet increasing demand, with staff working hard to roll out initiatives from straight-to-test services, cancer symptom hotlines and innovative diagnostics, so that those who are coming forward for checks can be seen quickly and their cancer identified at an earlier stage.’
NHS Confederation director of policy Dr Layla McCay said that health leaders have worked ‘incredibly hard to recover services’ throughout the pandemic.
However she said NHS leaders ‘know there is a lot more to do’, with ‘many people yet to receive a cancer diagnosis or begin treatment’.
‘This is why our members have been calling on the Government to be clear about the ongoing threat of Covid-related disruptions to services, the state the NHS is currently in with over 110,000 staff vacancies, and how long it will take for the health service to truly recover.’
The Government must assure continued progress for accelerating diagnoses and treatment via a long-term plan for upping and supporting the NHS workforce, she added.
Last month, MPs criticised the Government for not having made a ‘serious effort’ to address growing shortages in the cancer workfoce.
Meanwhile, the Government recently closed evidence submissions to inform its 10-year cancer plan.
And recent analysis of the most complete data to date from Cancer Research UK found significant disparities in cancer rates by ethnicity in England.
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Healthcare Leader