Charities, MPs, patients and supporters delivered a petition signed by more than 52,000 people to the Chancellor, demanding funding to beef up the cancer workforce and boost survival rates. In an open letter to Rishi Sunak ahead of the Spending Review, they said the future of the workforce was “the most significant threat facing the NHS today”.
They called for training and targeted investment to develop the next generation of workers, including thousands more specialist nurses and diagnostic staff.
The letter said the worst waiting times to date between referral and starting treatment had been recorded even before Covid hit.
It added: “The pandemic has not only laid bare the terrible strain the cancer workforce has been under for years but has driven cancer services to a crisis point.”
Signatories, led by Macmillan Cancer Support, included 21 cancer organisations, 64 Parliamentarians and nine All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs).
Representatives from Anthony Nolan, Blood Cancer UK, Teenage Cancer Trust and Pancreatic Cancer UK all marched to Downing Street. Eve Byrne, Macmillan’s head of campaigns and public affairs, said: “We’re here to send a really strong message to the Chancellor that we really need him to bring forward the investment that is desperately needed and overdue.
“The cancer workforce was struggling before the pandemic.The pandemic has added a huge amount of pressure. We’re hearing from Macmillan nurses that they’re feeling burnt out, that they’ve got nothing left to give.
“With a difficult winter ahead we are really concerned cancer patients are not going to have the support they should.”
Macmillan wants the Government to create a Cancer Nurse Training Fund of £124million to train more than 3,300 specialist nurses that it estimates will be needed in England alone by 2030.
Shaun Walsh, head of public affairs at Cancer Research UK, said: “There aren’t enough working in the NHS to diagnose and treat cancer soon enough. Cancer survival in this country lags behind comparable countries. Waiting lists have grown because of the pandemic so we’re concerned cancer survival might actually slip backwards.”
Although cancer services have begun to recover, analysis by Macmillan suggests the number of people starting treatment in England since the outbreak began is still 33,000 lower than expected.
The NHS would need to work at 110 per cent of usual capacity for 13 months to clear that backlog.
Professor Karol Sikora, Daily Express columnist and former director of the World Health Organization Cancer Programme, said: “Roughly 450 people die a day of cancer in the UK, many of which are preventable.
“When billions have been spent on our Covid response, investing a tiny fraction of that in cancer services has to happen.”
We cannot afford to ignore this anymore, says EVE BYRNE
After 18 months of disruption, cancer services are working tirelessly to recover from the devastating blow caused by Covid-19.
The system was under immense pressure even before the pandemic.
Now care is at crisis point and, with a tough winter ahead, we cannot afford to ignore this any longer.
Macmillan Cancer Support estimates the NHS was already short of 2,500 specialist nurses in England.
Around 1,000 were close to retirement age, meaning, without recruitment, the deficit could soon top 3,000.
Meanwhile, longstanding vacancies, high staff absence and sickness levels continue to constrain services.
This is having a very real impact.
Macmillan research revealed one in four people (25 per cent) diagnosed in the past two years lacked support from a specialist cancer nurse.
Almost half (44 per cent) had at least one potentially serious medical implication as a result.
There is a clear need for comprehensive, multi-year funding to ensure we have a sustainable workforce to meet growing demand.