Growing cancer waiting times requires urgent effort as we face second wave
The backlog of cancer cases risks growing further as a second wave bites and requires urgent action to bring it under control, according to one of the UK’s top cancer experts.
Professor Karol Sikora, chief medical officer at Rutherford Health and former head of the WHO’s cancer programme, spoke after it was revealed that the overall cancer waiting list had grown 20 percent between August and September alone: “This is a crucial period, we are heading into what will be a difficult winter for the NHS. It is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that cancer services are not compromised any further. The news of the cancer waiting list increasing is very worrying.”
The number of people on cancer waiting lists grew by 8,000 from August to mid-September. Over 6,400 have been waiting for cancer services for over three months. It comes after an NHS Confederation report warned of a ‘triple whammy’ of rising Covid-19 cases, backlogs in treatment and reduced capacity due to infection control measures.
Professor Sikora added: “We must do everything within our power to reduce the overall waiting list. We cannot afford to see a secondary backlog of cancer cases accumulate over this winter. That would be a disaster that will take many years to recover from, and potentially costing thousands of lives.
“The NHS Taskforce overseeing the restarting of cancer services have been focusing on those who have been waiting for cancer services for more than three months which is the right thing to do. The 6,400 people waiting for over three months for cancer services is an improvement from previous months, but the overall backlog is increasing.
“We do not have enough information to know just how much harm this is doing to patient outcomes yet, but thousands more people can die from cancer as a result. The backlog must be tackled proactively in all areas, not just those who have been waiting for more than three months, otherwise it will continue to grow and patient outcomes will deteriorate. We can act now by ensuring hospitals are ramping up diagnosis and screening and utilising the substantial capacity of the independent sector, which is an opportunity that has not been maximised.”
Mike Moran, CEO of Rutherford Health, said: “We simply cannot afford for the cancer backlog to increase in any shape or form, otherwise we will face the certainty of terrible patient outcomes in the future. Without aggressive action the backlog can continue to grow. We have played our part in trying to address this crisis, our centres remained open throughout the pandemic and our services were offered to NHS Trusts who needed them. We are open to ramping this up further to ensure that the backlog is brought under control as we head into winter. This is the best course of action, any reduction in cancer services due to predicted winter pressures would simply be unthinkable.”