Thank you to my constituents who contacted me about the cancer workforce and the NHS Long-Term Plan.
More than 360,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year and that figure is expected to rise to more than half a million by 2035.
I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected, and I pay tribute to the many cancer charities for their tireless efforts in funding research and providing support to patients and their families.
Improving cancer diagnosis should be a key priority for the Government. Key to this will be increasing the number of diagnosticians, improving public awareness and screening programmes, and ensuring that GPs have the training, resources and support they need to identify symptoms and refer patients quickly.
The NHS Long-Term Plan identifies cancer as a clinical priority and aims to boost survival by speeding up diagnosis. It includes welcome ambitions to extend screening and overhaul diagnostic services with the aim of diagnosing 75% of cancers at stages one or two by 2028. A review of cancer screening programmes and diagnostic capacity will also be undertaken and report back in the summer.
While the aspirations for improving cancer diagnosis are welcome, I remain concerned that Ministers have delayed setting out a workforce plan. There are chronic staff shortages across the NHS, with more than 100,000 vacancies. Cancer Research UK has also pointed to shortages in the diagnostic workforce, with over one in 10 positions unfilled nationally. Central investment in education and training has dropped from 5% of health spending in 2006-07 to 3% in 2018-19.
I am concerned that the Government’s mismanagement of the NHS workforce is directly affecting patient care: the national cancer treatment target has been repeatedly missed for four years and more than 500,000 patients are waiting beyond 18 weeks for care.
I believe a credible strategy to support and recruit the cancer workforce for the future must be at the heart of the Long-Term Plan. Ministers should fully fund the NHS, provide more resources for training and education, and reverse its decision to scrap the training bursary so that the NHS can recruit the nurses it needs for the future.
Thank you once again for contacting me about this important issue.