Highly critical report on cancer services in England

Cancer survival rates in England lagging behind comparable countries and are unlikely to catch up

A new report by the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee states that cancer survival rates in England are lagging behind those of other comparable countries and that they are unlikely to catch up any time soon.

In the highly critical report on cancer services in England, MPs outlined the damaging and continuing impact of the pandemic and warned that there is a real risk that gains made in cancer survival rates over recent years will start to reverse.

340,000 people missing out on an early cancer diagnosis

Evidence provided to the Committee by the Government and the NHS demonstrated that the NHS was 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.

Overall progress made by the Government against targets on cancer services in England was rated as "inadequate" by the Committee’s Expert Panel. It's evaluation also rated progress to diagnose 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028 as inadequate.

MPs say there appeared to be ‘no detailed plan’ to address shortages of clinical oncologists, consultant pathologists, radiologists and specialist cancer nurses with gaps threatening diagnosis, treatment and research equally.

Despite some progress in one-year cancer survival rates since the 1970s, outcomes in England lag behind other countries such as Canada or Australia. By comparison fewer people in England will live for five years or more when diagnosed with colon cancer or stomach cancer.

The Chair of the Committee and former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, 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.

“We do not believe that the NHS is on track to meet the Government’s target on early cancer diagnosis by 2028, reinforced by our Expert Panel’s rating that progress against this target is inadequate."

“We are further concerned at the damaging and prolonged impact of the pandemic on cancer services with a real risk that gains made in cancer survival will go into reverse."

Whilst NHS chiefs stated that they were "cautiously optimistic" about reaching the early diagnosis target many charities and independent experts did not share this view. Former cancer tsar, Sir Mike Richard's, stated that reaching the target was " most unlikely." Just 54 per cent of cancers are diagnosed at stage one or two, a situation that has remained unchanged for many years.

Patients suffering due to delayed presentation

Of course, these difficulties are largely the result of international lockdown policies. Dr. Sheila Singh a paediatric neurosurgeon at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton commenting on the delayed detection of brain tumours said that, she's seeing "too many oranges and grapefruits and fewer ping pong balls".

Queen Square, Consultant neurosurgeon Mr Patrick Grover when asked if his team have seen a similar impact agrees and says, "Yes that is something we’ve noticed throughout COVID. There are a number of late presentations of vascular pathologies and tumours, mostly due to people putting off seeking a medical opinion due to concern about catching COVID, and also due to the difficulty of seeing a medical professional due to longer waiting lists and remote clinics". He goes on to explain, "The more acute vascular patients were more of an issue certainly, as there is more urgency to their treatment, and they did suffer as a result from delayed presentation".

Has a sudden onset. Full medical glossary
Abnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. Full medical glossary
The large intestine. Full medical glossary
The process of determining which condition a patient may have. Full medical glossary
An organ with the ability to make and secrete certain fluids. Full medical glossary
A specialist in the treatment of cancer. Full medical glossary
An outbreak of infection that affects numerous people in different countries. Full medical glossary
A specialist in the study of disease processes. Full medical glossary
A doctor specializing in the interpretation of imaging techniques for the diagnosis and assessment of disease. Full medical glossary
the organ or the body where food is stored and broken down Full medical glossary
An abnormal swelling. Full medical glossary
Relating to blood vessels. Full medical glossary