The NHS is struggling to work its way through the number of people waiting for treatment which spiked during Government-imposed lockdowns, when citizens were told to avoid using health services where possible. And figures suggest that the situation will get much worse before it starts to get better, with upcoming cancer checks likely to add significantly to the patient waiting list.
Macmillan Cancer Support has estimated that more than 47,000 people in the UK have missed a cancer diagnosis since the first lockdown.
Amid warnings of new Covid variants and further disruption to the NHS this winter, the charity added that the number of missed diagnoses could increase further still.
Steven McIntosh, Executive Director of Advocacy and Communications at the charity, said: “Nearly two years into the pandemic, there is still a mountain of almost 50,000 people who are missing a cancer diagnosis.
“Thousands more are already facing delays and disruption as they go through treatment.”
In order to catch up with the number of people who should have started treatment since March last year, Macmillan Cancer Support estimated that NHS England would have to work at a staggering 110 percent capacity for 13 consecutive months.
Mr McIntosh added: “While hard-working healthcare professionals continue to do all they can to diagnose and treat patients on time, they are fighting an uphill battle.
“Cancer patients are stuck, waiting in a system that doesn’t have the capacity to treat them fast enough, let alone deal with the backlog of thousands who have yet to come forward.”
The charity warned that a primary issue faced by the NHS in its challenge to work through the cancer backlog was a lack of cancer nurses.
READ MORE: Macron urged to start another trade war over ‘threatened’ sector
Tens of thousands of patients also told the charity they did not contact their GP when their symptoms got worse because they did not want to add to the pressure on the NHS.
Macmillan Cancer Support’s warning comes after Health Secretary Said Javid warned that NHS England’s backlog is likely to pass six million by the New Year.
He admitted that the blame for rising numbers lies primarily with the Government, which last year told people again and again to “stay home” in order to “protect the NHS”.
He said: “This number is going to go up before it comes down. Why? Because some seven to eight million people stayed away during the height of the Covid crisis because they were asked to.
“They did what was asked of them.”
He added: “But I want them to come forward, I want them to come back to the NHS, I want them to know that it is open to them, and if you take that along with normal demand of course that is huge pressure.”
An NHS spokesman added: “Throughout the pandemic, cancer has been a priority for the NHS and diagnosis and treatment numbers have been back at pre-pandemic levels since the spring, with record numbers of people being referred for investigation over the last six months.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Cancer diagnosis and treatment is an absolute priority and nearly half a million people were checked for cancer in August and September this year – some of the highest numbers ever.
“We remain committed to delivering our long-term plan for tackling cancer and have backed the NHS with record investment, including £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years to deliver an extra nine million checks, scans and operations for patients across the country.”