Every 90 seconds someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer.
I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by cancer and I am concerned that cancer pathways have been affected during the pandemic. Estimates suggest that around two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment.
Cancer charities have called on the Government to work closely with the NHS to ensure it has enough staff and resources to clear the backlog of unmet clinical need. I pay tribute to the work of Macmillan, which funds hundreds of nurses, support workers, benefits advisors and other vital roles across the NHS and social care system in Scotland. Each year Macmillan also gives around £2 million in grants to people with cancer in Scotland to help them with everything from paying their rent to covering transport costs to and from treatment.
The latest figures from Public Health Scotland show 98,332 Scots were still waiting for diagnostic cancer tests at the end of June, a rise of 7.6 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. Almost two-thirds of patients had to wait longer than the six-week maximum time for a diagnostic check such as an endoscopy, which is vital for detecting several kinds of cancer.
With record numbers of patients waiting for tests, I believe we need an urgent and fully resourced plan to tackle this backlog and enable our health service to move between the competing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and non-COVID-19-related care.
The UK Government said all NHS providers must ensure that cancer diagnosis, treatment and care continue during the response to the COVID-19 emergency. NHS trusts in England have been advised that cancer treatment, including radiotherapy services, “must be brought back to pre-pandemic levels at the earliest opportunity” to minimise potential harm and to reduce the scale of the post-pandemic surge in demand.
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has said the government had been making “significant progress” with the £850million waiting times improvement plan but that progress had been affected by measures needed to respond to Covid-19. While we know the pandemic has been extremely challenging for the NHS, people with cancer can’t be expected to pay the price. Coronavirus must not be used as an excuse for falling short on waiting times, especially when we know that NHS Scotland fell short of its cancer waiting times target for the seventh year in a row. Therefore, it is vital that a plan to fully kickstart and support our NHS is implemented immediately. Delays are putting patients at risk.
The NHS is facing a second spike in COVID-19 infections alongside additional winter pressures. Resetting the NHS to continue treating COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients is an important priority as the growing burden of unmet clinical need risks widening health inequalities. I believe UK and Scottish Ministers must ensure that anyone with suspected cancer receives effective and timely diagnosis and referral, and that all cancer patients receive the care and treatment they need.
Both UK and Scottish Governments must ensure that our health service is fully prepared to deal with the competing demands of the non-COVID-19 backlog, the ongoing risk of a second spike and winter pressures.
This month I participated in Macmillan Cancer Support Coffee Morning to show my support for the great work they do in providing vital support.