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Covid-19: Cancer Care and Treatment

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 23 February 2021

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on cancer care and treatment. (912286)

The tremendous efforts of our NHS cancer workforce are helping to ensure that those who need treatment can continue to access it without delay. The NHS has been clear, as have Ministers, since the beginning of the pandemic that continuation of urgent cancer care must be a priority. The NHS has established covid-secure cancer hubs, consolidated surgery, centralised triage to prioritise patients based on clinical need, and utilised the independent sector for capacity.

Staff at North Middlesex University Hospital have done an incredible job under difficult circumstances, delivering cancer care and treatment, but despite that the Government have acknowledged that more than 30,000 people are missing a diagnosis of cancer compared with 2019. With the cancer recovery plan due to expire at the end of March, can the Minister please set out her commitments to beat the backlog after March? How will a renewed cancer recovery plan help meet the ambitions for cancer care set out in the NHS long-term plan?

I am concerned, like the hon. Gentleman, about those who have not come forward and those who are not currently accessing treatment. I reassure him that once people do come forward, there is a speedy path to treatment. The numbers of those who are entering treatment, both on two weeks and on 31 days, is ahead of what it was at this time last year, and we are seeing enormous efforts from the cancer workforce. I am meeting this afternoon with the all-party parliamentary groups on radiotherapy and on cancer, and we will be discussing the recovery plan, which he is right goes to March. However, every single trust has been given a target to produce a plan for ongoing assessment of how it is addressing the backlog going forward.

Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that more than 40,000 people are missing a cancer diagnosis across England, including around 60 people in my constituency of Birkenhead. Behind each statistic is a family member and loved one whose prognosis and survival chances are being severely affected by the disruption caused by the pandemic. Can the Minister tell me what additional funding will be made available to ensure that missed cancer diagnoses are caught as soon as possible?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The latest official data for December, as I say, suggests that two-week wait GP urgent referrals were 7% higher than for the same month last year, 62-day GP urgent referrals were 6.7% higher, and urgent referrals for cancer were 151% higher than in April, showing the month we were most impacted. As I say, we are straining every sinew to make sure that cancer services not only recover but go on and are better to deliver more care for patients.

Going into this pandemic, staff shortages were already causing increased waiting times for cancer treatment. Despite being short-handed, our wonderful NHS cancer staff have done a heroic job maintaining services while fighting this virus, but given the size of the backlog, cancer services will need to go above and beyond pre-pandemic levels for a significant period of time—straining every sinew, as the Minister says. They need extra resources to be able to do so. Next week’s Budget must contain these resources. Has the Minister asked for them?

Cancer has been prioritised with funding throughout the pandemic. It is, as I say, a key priority. Not only have we invested in radiotherapy equipment to the tune of some £325 million but there is a £160 million initiative to provide covid-friendly cancer treatments that are safer for people. We still have the same objective in the long-term plan to diagnose more cancers early, and appropriate funding, such as the billion pounds targeted at the NHS to drive down cancer backlogs and to ensure that people can access care, is part of that strategy.