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NHS not making progress on early cancer diagnosis as impact of Covid-19 pandemic continues to be felt

By Sanna Mazhar, an expert medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

It has been reported that the NHS in England is struggling to progress on its target to diagnose three-quarters of cancer cares at an early stage. 

MPs in England are concerned and the Health and Social Care Committee has stated that staffing shortages and disruption from the pandemic are continuing to cause delays.

No improvement in six years

A total of 54 per cent of cases are diagnosed at stages one and two which is considered imperative in increasing chances of survival. A target has been set to diagnose 75 per cent of cases in the early stages by 2028, but sadly there has been no improvement in six years.

This means that England is behind comparable countries such as Canada and Australia when it comes to cancer survival and so the committee has warned that the lack of progress could lead to more than 340,000 people missing out on early cancer diagnosis.

Early detection of cancer makes a difference

The stage at which cancer is diagnosed makes a significant difference to a patient’s survival and so this news comes as a huge worry. An example of this is that 90 per cent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer at stage one live for a further five years compared to only 10 per cent of those who are diagnosed at stage four.

MPs have said that the push to improve early cancer diagnosis was being undermined by long waiting times and disruption caused by the pandemic and at present the NHS is failing to hit its target to start treatment within two months of an urgent referral.

In addition, those invited for screening during the pandemic were three million fewer than expected which is another factor that is imperative to the early detection of cancer.

45,000 missed cancer cases

A host of factors have led to this decline over the past two years which has led to an estimated 45,000 missed cases across the UK. Other factors include a lack of staff with shortages in radiologists, specialist cancer nurses and doctors.

The committee chairman, Jeremy Hunt, has spoken out and explained that the gains that had been made may go into reverse and that many more lives will end prematurely without earlier diagnosis and treatment.

There is a real and concerning risk that if changes are not made that this decline will only worsen impacting the lives of many. It is therefore imperative that we recognise the decline and work towards assessing the reform and change required to improve the services within the NHS and save the lives of those affected by cancer before it’s too late.

Support available but action is needed

The charity Maggie’s, also known as everyone’s home for cancer care, provide invaluable cancer support to those affected by cancer. It provides creative therapies and can assist with managing socially and financially. Therefore charities such as Maggie’s will be crucial to supporting people who are affected by cancer and also who may have been affected by the delays that patients are currently facing which heartbreakingly is leading to more devastating prognosis and outcomes.

We hope and encourage the committee to take immediate action to address this worrying decline to improve our health services and to save lives.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and their families following a cancer diagnosis at our dedicated cancer claims section.

The NHS in England is struggling to make progress on its flagship target to diagnose three-quarters of cancer cases at an early stage, MPs are warning.

The Health and Social Care Committee said staffing shortages and disruption from the pandemic were causing delays.”