Grahame Morris MP spoke in this morning’s Westminster Hall Debate on access to cancer diagnosis and treatment during the covid-19 outbreak, secured by Tim Farron MP.
Charity Action Radiotherapy estimates that the full cancer backlog stands at likely over 100,000 patients, and agree that it would take cancer services working at over 120% of pre-Covid capacity for two years to catch up.
Experts predict 35,000 deaths and 60,000 lost years of life, with cancer survival rates having been pushed back to where they were 10-15 years ago.
The Easington MP specifically mentioned the implications of the pandemic for prostate cancer. NHS England and Prostate Cancer UK calculations together suggest that there are currently between 3,000-5,000 men with undiagnosed higher-risk prostate cancer, who would have been diagnosed, had referral rates stayed at pre-Covid levels.
Prostate Cancer UK have identified two major concerns. Firstly, the detrimental impact on GP referrals for prostate cancer investigation. Secondly, access to support and communication for men, both at the time of diagnosis and for men living with side effects and advanced disease.
The Easington MP also focused on the recent Spending Review, particularly in relation to radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is safer to administer during the pandemic than alternative treatments. It is needed by 1 in 2 cancer patients, and is significant in 40% of cancer cures. It is also hugely cost effective, curing patients for as little as £5-7K. It could do so much more to clear the backlog, but it has been held back by underfunding and bureaucracy, that slows the rollout of new technology, for years.
The publication of the radiotherapy data set which will show the extent and character of the backlog, has been delayed by Public Health England.
Despite freedom of information requests showing that nearly half of trusts are using radiotherapy machines that are over 10 years old, it appears that the Spending Review only includes funding for diagnostic machine replacements, and not radiotherapy treatments.
Even before the pandemic, Radiotherapy4Life estimated that 24,000 patients did not have access to the radiotherapy they would benefit from.
Without a super-boost to treatment capacity, we face a national cancer crisis. Cancer patients are dying unnecessarily already. Urgent publication of data, and investment in cancer treatments and diagnostics – particularly radiotherapy – is urgently needed to prevent further avoidable deaths.