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Record 2.7m people referred for cancer checks following pandemic downswing

Record 2.7m people referred for cancer checks following pandemic downswing

By Jess Hacker
3 May 2022

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Nearly 2.7 million people were referred for cancer checks during the last year, according to NHS England, marking the highest year on record.

However, it noted that there are still at least 30,000 who haven’t started treatment due to the pandemic.

According to the health service, as many as 2.65 million patients were referred for cancer checks between March 2021 and February 2022, up from 2.4 million before the pandemic.

NHS England also said that around 11,000 people getting checked every day during the last 12 months.

The data also suggests that around 315,000 started treatment, compared to 313,000 prior to the pandemic, and despite growing Covid-19 pressures on NHS services.

And Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said that health leaders have worked ‘incredibly hard to recover services’ throughout the pandemic.

‘However, 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,’ she said.

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.

Dame Cally Palmer, national cancer director for NHS England, 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.’

Last month, MPs criticised the Government over a lack of evidence to indicate that it has made a ‘serious effort’ to address growing gaps in the cancer workforce.

The Government recently closed evidence submissions to inform its 10-year cancer plan.

Recent analysis of the most complete data to date from Cancer Research UK found significant disparities in cancer rates by ethnicity in England.

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