Urgent action must be taken to address the backlog in cancer treatment after Covid and prevent a second “devastating” health crisis, MPs and medical experts have warned.
Nearly 70 MPs, heads of medical colleges and leading oncologists are urging the government to deliver a new “radical” national plan to tackle the cancer backlog or risk “tens of thousands of needless cancer deaths”.
The open letter addressed to the prime minister warns that “without urgent action we face a second devastating health crisis as the Covid wards empty and the cancer wards fill.”
The letter has been signed by chairs of all-party parliamentary groups (APPG), former cabinet ministers and a former cancer minister, and calls on the PM to consider the seven recommendations put forward by the cancer community and cross-party MPs.
The recommendations include the need to recognise the urgency of the backlog and deliver a new radical national plan, driven from ministerial level and backed by investment in equipment, technology, IT and workforce and to sweep away bureaucracy that restricts cancer care capacity.
Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, chair of the APPG for radiotherapy, said: “It feels like ministers and NHS leaders are hearing our words but still not accepting the magnitude of this Covid-caused cancer crisis. We keep hearing that ‘everything is in hand’ and that there are ‘encouraging signs’ but this flies in the face of warnings from frontline staff, patients and cancer experts.”
He added: “This crisis can’t be solved by just exhorting the already exhausted staff to ‘work harder’. And getting more patients to present is only part of the solution. We urgently need the prime minister to intervene and ensure we have a radical national plan backed with a real cash ‘super-boost’ to give cancer services the tools and capacity they need to catch up.”
Professor Pat Price, a leading oncologist, said the cancer community was “pleading” with the PM to treat the issue as a national priority.
“The entire cancer pathway needs urgently restoring throughout the country, staff are exhausted and we simply don’t have the capacity to catch up,” he said.
“We need proper investment, backed by the political leadership to ensure that investment gets to where it is needed most. The prime minister has shown what can be done with the vaccine programme. Now, it’s a national imperative that he works with us to do the same for cancer.”
The Department for Health has been contacted for comment.