I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). It has been a true pleasure to work with her for over a decade on early years policy and, most recently, on the Government’s early years review, which she kindly invited me to sit on. I am pleased that she has once again raised this very important issue today and at the commitment she has secured in the Queen’s Speech, which I hope, as she does, delivers all the recommendations in her review. It has also been a pleasure to co-chair with the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), who I shadowed when he was the Children and Families Minister, the Early Years Commission, which is set to publish its findings soon.
As we know, the first 1,001 critical days are so crucial to a child’s development, and I will continue as long as I have breath in my body to campaign for the early years to be prioritised and properly funded, as I am sure the right hon. Lady will. However, I want to focus the bulk of my remarks on another very important issue. While the pandemic has been more than a challenge for all policy areas, nowhere has it impacted harder than in our health services. I want to raise this today because the legacy of any legislation now will have a lasting impact on our recovery towards the brighter future we all want to see. We have the opportunity now to rebuild our NHS after this devastating blow, so that generations to come have world-class healthcare there for them when they need it. Yet sadly, there was no mention of cancer services in particular in the Queen’s Speech, which is a terrible omission.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ovarian cancer, I work closely with other cancer APPG chairs to raise the devastating issues facing our cancer services. Never has that work been of greater importance than across this last year, yet, sadly, BBC statistics shared today suggest there are 45,000 missing cancer patients, meaning fewer people are going to their GP to be checked out or seek referrals. They are also missing vital screening services. Of that number, almost 10,000 are missing breast cancer patients. People need to know that it is safe to go to get checked. Not only is it safe; it is encouraged.
Despite fewer people presenting to their GPs in the first place as a result of the pandemic, worrying trends have appeared along the treatment chain. Macmillan’s research demonstrates that, as of February this year, the number of people being seen by a specialist after an urgent referral had dropped by 8% from February 2020. Toggle showing location ofColumn 312The disruption to services across the last 14 months has created a backlog of people receiving their first treatment for cancer, which currently stands at 38,500 people. That is despite the strongest efforts of our tremendously hard-working NHS staff.
Despite the urgent nature of the 62-day period from diagnosis to treatment, thousands of patients have had to wait longer. The lowest number of people missing that waiting time period was 16,111, and that was in November last year, but that was still 44% higher than pre-pandemic numbers. We all know that NHS staff have worked their hardest and could not have done more, but even if cancer services could now operate at 110% of pre-pandemic capacity, we are looking at more than 15 months to clear that backlog, and that is without the 45,000 missing cancer patients all turning up all of a sudden. So this just is not possible or sustainable with the extensive challenges that lie ahead. The Government must do everything they can to put patients first, clear that backlog, find those missing patients and bring down the growing waiting lists. But how?
Concerns have been raised by the Royal College of Radiologists that delays to scans have been worsened by a 33% shortfall in that workforce. It is unfortunately growing clearer that our cancer workforce are suffering and need immediate attention from the Government. Alongside other cancer APPG chairs, I was happy to sign a funding statement in March which called on the Government to recognise that NHS services need resources to super-boost capacity above pre-pandemic levels. The Government really must act now to make sure that this does not spiral into a greater health crisis and to protect lives. The way to achieve that is with a plan that ensures the long-term resuscitation of the cancer workforce—a plan that will recruit and train, bring jobs and maintain the standards of care that people deserve nationwide.
Cancer was left out of the Chancellor’s Budget in March. The backlog was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. I ask the Government to make sure that the other c-word is not forgotten once more.