There is little evidence to indicate the Government has made a ‘serious effort’ to address growing gaps in the cancer workforce, MPs have said.
In a new report (5 April), the Health and Social Care Committee criticised the absence of any plan to tackle the chronic shortages, which it claimed ‘threaten’ diagnosis, treatment and research.
Currently, the NHS is short 189 clinical oncologists, 390 consultant pathologists and nearly 2,000 radiologists, and will be short of 3,371 specialist cancer nurses by 2030.
The Committee also noted that more than 60% of cancer diagnoses are made following a GP referral, but reminded that the NHS has lost 1,704 fully-qualified full-time GPs since 2015.
The report said: ‘We have recommended many times the need for an overhaul of workforce planning with independent projections of need, something the Government continues to reject.
‘We repeat this recommendation for the cancer workforce where more short-term increases are urgently needed to address the Covid backlog and meet the 2028 early diagnosis ambition.’
It comes day after the annual NHS staff survey revealed that nearly one-in-three staff in England reported often thinking about leaving the organisation.
MPs warned that the lack of action could jeopardise early diagnosis, noting that 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, the Committee cautioned.
The Government is currently calling for evidence to inform its 10-year cancer plan.
Jeremy Hunt, MP and chair of the Committee, said: ‘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.’
The pandemic’s ‘damaging and prolonged’ impact could present ‘a real risk that gains made in cancer survival will go into reverse’, he added.
The Committee recommended NHS England instruct Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) to appoint cancer lead responsible for working with their local Cancer Alliance to ‘improve the operational adoption of best practice in their area’.
It also called for ‘significant effort’ to reduce variation in the standard of cancer care and outcomes, noting that the rate of early diagnosis is 59% among the least deprived socioeconomic group, but just 48% in the most.
NHS England should work with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to develop a joint strategy for closing these inequalities, it said.
Last month, Cancer Research UK’s analysis of the most complete data to date found significant disparities in cancer rates by ethnicity in England.