The pandemic has severely disrupted cancer services in England. While Covid-19 might not have caused our health service to ‘collapse’ rapidly, it has forced us to take previously unthinkable steps like cancelling cancer treatments. There have been widespread disruptions across the cancer care pathway – screening, referrals, diagnostic and treatment services have all seen reductions in activity.
Unmitigated, the consequences will be severe.
Delays in cancer referrals during the first wave of the pandemic are estimated to have undone two, six and eight years of improvements in five-year survival rates from lung, breast and colorectal cancer. Fortunately, cancer services have been considerably more resilient to subsequent Covid-19 waves, which is testament to the planning and measures put in place by NHS institutions across the country. But national progress on ‘missing patient backlogs’ across the cancer care pathway has been slow and there is considerable catch up to be done in diagnostic and treatment services.
The government recently announced a three-year funding plan for the health service. They have said the funding will allow the NHS to aim for highly ambitious activity increases, but there is more to be done to ‘build back batter’ cancer care. To that end, we recommend a new three-part cancer pledge for the country.
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