An emergency meeting involving the chairs of six parliamentary groups on cancer and the two national cancer directors, took place with government ministers after evidence emerged patients have had cancer surgery delayed. One patient with head and neck cancer was told he could not have curative surgery – as he was on his way into theatre. The experts are calling on the Government put a “ring of iron” around cancer patients to stop trusts redeploying staff. One leading professor told the Sunday Express that the UK is facing a “monumental cancer crisis” and said urgent action must be taken to “avoid catastrophe”.
Professor Pat Price, adviser to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Radiotherapy, said: “Who gets to decide whose life is more important? Trusts do not seem to have been told to protect cancer services and now we are seeing cancer cases being deprioritised due to lack of staffing.
“We need guidance from the Government about the need to protect cancer patients to stop trusts pinching cancer staff to treat Covid.”
She added: “We already have a major cancer crisis with up to 100,000 cases untreated due to the earlier lockdowns. Now the same thing is happening all over again.
“The current cancer recovery plan has been overtaken by events and is simply out of date. The cancer taskforce does not have the remit or investment powers to tackle what is a monumental cancer crisis. Only a revised plan, emergency investment together with a strong message to patients that they should still present with symptoms, will avoid catastrophe.”
Thursday’s meeting heard reports of radiotherapy and chemotherapy staff being redeployed to become mortuary assistants or taken to work on Covid wards.
One senior cancer surgery consultant said she had nurses and doctors poached from her London unit.
Macmillan nurses have also been moved away from caring for cancer patients to fill gaps caused by the Covid crisis.
Many specialists have also posted their frustrations online.
Lucy Gossage, an oncology consultant at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, wrote last week: “Imagine being a cancer surgeon and having to battle week in, week out to get the theatre space, support staff and bed to allow you to perform the curative surgery your patient needs.
“Imagine losing this battle regularly. This is happening across the country every single day.”
Tim Farron, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Radiotherapy said: “It feels as if cancer is being deprioritised and that the Government has not fully understood the scale of the backlog. We need to draw a big iron ring around cancer services and we need to magic up administrative and support staff to help with this, as there has been with the vaccine rollout.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is under significant pressure from the latest wave of patients needing treatment for Covid but, thanks to the hard work of staff and
hospitals working together, urgent cancer treatment is continuing.
“We have adjusted our workforce as needed to help ensure all our patients receive the highest standard of care, and as ever staff have responded flexibly and professionally to the asks made of them.”