Action Radiotherapy told the Daily Express the backlog of patients still waiting for potentially life-saving treatment amid the coronavirus pandemic could be as high as 100,000. It says cancer services would need to be working at around 120 percent to clear the backlog over the next two years. But without any extra funding, which is needed to buy new smarter equipment, the problem could take until 2025 to clear.
The charity has also warned that current figures showing improved waiting times for cancer sufferers are misleading because patient numbers are much lower now.
Professor Pat Price, founder of Catch Up With Cancer and Chair of the charity Action Radiotherapy, said: “Frustration is boiling over that such obvious solutions to prevent a national cancer crisis are being overlooked.
“Services are not yet at full pre-Covid capacity, so the frightening backlog is building.”
She added: “The message to the government is that you have really got to invest now, just get on with it and put some money behind it and respond to these smart solutions that are available.
“Don’t just keep doing the same thing you have always done and say it’s all alright because that is just leading to a growing cancer backlog every day.
“If they do then the cancer crisis won’t be back to normal, probably for 5 years, or more. The government needs to invest now and you will save lives, think smart, think sharp.”
Around 367,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed every year
It comes as a cross-party group of 60 MPs have given their support to a letter demanding the government uses next week’s comprehensive spending review to announce more funding to help with the crisis.
In the letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the All Party Parliamentary Group for radiotherapy demands immediate financial support to help tackle the crisis.
“We ask that you and your ministerial colleagues make urgent representations to the Treasury to ensure that the forthcoming Government Spending Review provides solutions to tackle the Covid induced cancer backlog,” it states.
“There is a clear and urgent need for investment.
“Put starkly, we are concerned that without investment into the capacity of services, we will never be able to catch up and so fail to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths to cancer.
“To our knowledge, current NHS plans do not include the resources that are essential to recover from the backlog.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock
It calls for “urgent investment in treatment and diagnostics” and “digital and technology innovations, that could deliver the ‘super-boost’ our cancer fighting capacity needs.”
The letter adds: “There are smart and cost-effective solutions which would facilitate a rapid increase in capacity in cancer services that could be rolled out immediately.
“As one example, radiotherapy can, with the right investment, play an even greater role in tackling the backlog.”
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Chair of the APPG for Radiotherapy, said: “People would be shocked to learn that there are solutions to tackle the Covid induced cancer backlog but they currently do not appear to be in the Government’s cancer recovery plans.
“Treatments like Covid-safe radiotherapy can cure patients for as little as £5K-£7k sometimes in less than 30 minutes, but they need to be set free from the bureaucracy that holds them back.
“The desire across the country to prevent a national cancer catastrophe is evidenced by how many MPs from across Parliament have written to the Health Secretary calling for action at the Spending Review.”
Chair of the APPG on Cancer, Tonia Antoniazzi, said: “We need the Secretary of State to understand the seriousness of the crisis unfolding in cancer. Months of building a frightening cancer backlog cannot be undone by demanding frontline staff ‘work harder’.
“Cancer patients cannot be the collateral damage of the pandemic. We need the Government to boost cancer treatments and diagnostics if we are to save thousands of lives from being lost unnecessarily. Further delays are not acceptable.”
Around 367,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed every year, equal to around 1,000 a day.
The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has badly impacted Cancer Research UK’s ability to raise funds, with a predicted drop in income of £300million over three years.
The funding crisis means the charity could be forced to sack 1,500 scientists and lose more than a third of its 4,000 researchers, potentially putting tens of thousands of lives at risk.
The Daily Express has launched a Show You Care For Cancer campaign to raise funding to help prevent that outcome.