Improving cancer care a huge challenge post-pandemic

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Improving cancer care will be a huge challenge, ministers are being warned as they promise a new 10-year strategy for England.

Figures suggest there have been 34,000 fewer diagnoses since Covid hit – 50,000 if you include the whole UK.

It risks an increasing number of late diagnoses which reduces the chances of survival, cancer charities said.

It comes as the government is promising to invest in new technologies and equipment to spot cancer quicker.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new "war on cancer" strategy will be published later this year.

"It will take a far-reaching look at how we want cancer care to be in 2032. Looking at all stages from prevention, to diagnosis, treatment and vaccines," he said.

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Mr Javid pointed out the NHS was already taking steps, including evaluating new blood tests to spot cancers early and opening a network of testing centres.

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About the data

About the data

Ambulance queues

When patients arrive at hospital by ambulance they should be handed over within 15 minutes. This data shows the proportion of ambulance patients who waited 30 minutes or more, in the week shown. It comes from daily situation reports which are published weekly during the winter in England. As this is fast-turnaround data, the NHS says only minimal validation can be carried out but it is considered fit for purpose.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not publish ambulance queue data.

A&E waits

Patients at A&E should be seen within four hours of arrival. This data shows the proportion of patients attending A&E who waited longer than four hours to be treated, discharged or admitted.

This data is published monthly for England and Wales and weekly for Scotland. Northern Ireland publishes its data quarterly and Winter 2021 is not yet available.

Bed waits and occupancy

If a patient at A&E needs to be admitted, the wait from decision to admit to being given a bed on a ward is recorded in England. The bed waits figure is the proportion of patients admitted via A&E who waited longer than four hours for a ward bed.

In Wales, bed wait data is not published, so the figure shown is the occupancy level in general and acute beds. Scotland and Northern Ireland do not publish bed wait or bed occupancy data.

NHS trusts and boards

Data for England is show by NHS trust, where the trust includes at least one hospital with a Type 1 A&E department. Type 1 means a consultant-led 24 hour A&E service with full resuscitation facilities.

When you enter a postcode for a location in England you will be shown a list of NHS trusts in your area. They will not necessarily be in order of your closest hospital as some trusts have more than one hospital. Data for Wales and Scotland are shown by NHS board.

Comparative data from two years ago is shown where available. However, where trusts have merged there is no like-for-like comparison to show. Bed occupancy data in Wales only goes back to April 2020.

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The last cancer strategy was only published in 2019 as part of the NHS Long-Term Plan, promising three-quarters of cancers would be spotted at an early stage by 2028.

Before the pandemic, just over half of cancers were spotted at stages one or two, which is classed as early.

But the fear is the drop in diagnoses, which has been caused by people either not coming forward for check-ups or struggling to get access care especially in the early months of the pandemic, will lead to those figures getting worse rather than better in the short-term.

Chart showing cancer patients

Lynda Thomas, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said given the impact of the pandemic people with cancer needed "support more than ever".

"We have been sounding the alarm for a long time," she added.

But she said while improving diagnosis and treatment was crucial, it was like "building sandcastles while the tide comes" without extra staff to tackle the backlogs and demand for care.

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Anna Jewell, chair of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, said there were particular problems with cancers of the lung, liver, brain, oesophagus, pancreas and stomach, which have the lowest survival rates. Just 16% of people diagnosed with these cancers survive for five years.

"The situation is urgent. If we are to truly be successful we need to go much further on cancer and improve the persistently poor outcomes that patients in this country have long experienced compared to other countries."

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