Today we joined 46 other cancer charities to speak with One Cancer Voice on what we need from UK Governments and the NHS to plot a route out of the pandemic and towards world-leading cancer services.
Our statement is not about looking backwards. This is about recognising the herculean efforts of those on the front line and looking forwards. It’s about recognising the needs of people affected by cancer and those that care for them. It’s about setting out, collectively, what needs to happen to get our shared ambitions to beat cancer back on track.
The backlog of cancer cases, over 40,000 people across the UK who should have started cancer treatment in 2020, but did not, paints a dark picture. The majority of these are people who are living with cancer but don’t know it.
We know that an early diagnosis followed by swift treatment is the best way to increase your chances of surviving cancer. We know that the NHS has millions of people on its waiting lists. And we know that staff are overworked, anxious and exhausted. Together, this starkly illustrates why we urgently need a forward looking and fully funded plan to recover and transform how we tackle cancer across the UK.
As a community of cancer charities, backed by our supporters, we want to work with our 4 nation Governments and the NHS to make this plan a reality.
There are bright lights on the horizon that point to what might be possible.
Last week NHS England announced a colon capsule endoscopy pilot that is both bold and exciting. We need to harness and accelerate that kind of innovative thinking. One thing that stood out, amongst the challenge of the pandemic, was the way the NHS innovated, adapted and adopted new ways of working to meet patient need in extremely challenging circumstances. We need to hold onto that spirit if we are to clear the cancer backlog and transform cancer services, and if the UK Government is to deliver on its manifesto commitment to improve cancer survival in this country.
But spirit and can-do enthusiasm aren’t enough. As our joint statement sets out, we urgently need to see bold political will and leadership in this area. And dare we say, funding and certainty.
It was disappointing that the recent Budget did not provide further assurance on how money allocated to clear the NHS backlog would support cancer patients. It was disappointing that the work of medical research charities, such as Cancer Research UK, who deliver the life-saving science and research that is being celebrated as a means through the pandemic is not being supported further at a time of significant loss in income.
And it is hugely disappointing that we are still way off track on the NHS England Long Term Plan target of 3 in 4 cancers being diagnosed early by 2028 and to be smoke free by 2030.
We need action. As our joint statement sets out, decisions made now will determine whether we live up to the cancer ambitions set by the UK Governments, and drastically improve the lives of people affected by cancer. The time is now.
The cancer community stands ready to work with Governments across the UK to turn ambition into reality for all cancer patients.
Michelle Mitchell is Cancer Research UK’s chief executive
Tell us how you’re feeling about the situation facing cancer services, or your own experience of living with cancer during the pandemic.