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England cancer referrals hit record-breaking 2.7 million

NHS England has reported record numbers of cancer referrals after the numbers fell during the pandemic, reaching 2.7 million over the past year.

The number remains stubbornly higher than pre-pandemic numbers as the health system works through the backlog of patients, with the number of patients receiving treatment rising 2,000 to 315,000.

Dame Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for NHS England indicated that 30,000 people are waiting to start treatment saying: “We are going further and faster than ever before in our ambitions to diagnose more cancers at an earlier stage so that we can save more lives.

“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.”

Following the hiatus caused by the pandemic, NHS England is now expanding its cancer service to improve diagnostic capabilities with one-stop test shops, mobile clinics and cancer symptom hotlines.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England National Clinical Director for cancer, said: “We know the pandemic meant that at first we saw fewer patients, but in the last year GPs have been referring people for investigation in record numbers and have been working hard to make sure people with worrying symptoms can be seen.

“The NHS has continued to prioritise cancer care throughout the pandemic.”.

The ratcheting up of facilities and the increasing number of patients seen is good news for a health system that struggled to cope during the pandemic, with many day-to-day services being downscaled.

According a Health and Social Care Committee report earlier this month the number of people invited for cancer screening in 2020 fell by more than three million and fewer than 326,000 people received an urgent referral for suspected cancer.

The same report suggested that the problem continued well into the Omicron wave, with “the NHS is still not able to access sufficient COVID-free treatment capacity to safeguard treatments and address the backlog.”.

Cancer charities in the UK have welcomed the latest figures but have called on the government to remedy the chronic underfunding and understaffing of the last ten years.

Minesh Patel, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is reassuring to see record numbers of people coming forward with cancer symptoms for these life-saving checks.

“However, people living with cancer are often missing out on crucial care as a result of chronic NHS understaffing.

“To avoid putting further pressure on hardworking doctors and nurses, it’s vital the government includes steps in the upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan to grow the number of cancer professionals so that people living with cancer receive the quality and timely care they desperately need.”

The Health Secretary Sajid Javid responded saying: “The pandemic put unprecedented pressure on the NHS and it is positive to see more people coming forward for treatment and record numbers of people receiving life-saving cancer checks.

“Our upcoming 10-year cancer plan that will lead Europe in cancer care, along with our record investment to cut waiting times and the introduction of the health and social care levy, will help us continue our mission to tackle the COVID backlogs.”

Ordinarily high cancer referrals would spark concern but the news that England has hit a record-breaking 2.7 million is good news for those whose lives were put on hold during the pandemic.


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Written by

Peter McLaren-Kennedy

Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]

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