As vice-chair of both the APPG on Cancer and the APPG on Radiotherapy, access to cancer services is an issue that I care about passionately.

A week ago today, I joined colleagues, representatives from cancer charities and the cancer workforce in delivering a petition and a letter to Number 11 Downing Street.

The petition was signed by over 53,000 people, and the letter – sent on behalf of a coalition of charities, patient advocacy groups, MPs, Peers and All-Party Parliamentary Group Chairs – called on the Government to urgently invest in our vital cancer workforce ahead of the Budget.

The pandemic has not only laid bare the terrible strain the cancer workforce has been under for years but has driven cancer services to a crisis point.

Significant numbers of nurses are reportedly leaving or planning to leave the NHS following the pandemic. One in four NHS staff in England say they are more likely to leave their jobs than a year ago. In addition, long-standing unfilled vacancies and high staff absence and sickness levels continue to constrain cancer services.

When Professor Pat Price appeared before the Health Select Committee earlier this week she spoke of the ‘biggest cancer crisis in living memory.’

The emphasis on investment in cancer diagnostic services in yesterday’s Budget was welcome.

It matches ambitions set out in the NHS Long-Term Plan of diagnosing 75% of cancer at stage I or II by 2028, and projections that 55,000 people each year will survive for five years or more following their cancer diagnosis.

However, we need much greater clarity on exactly how this money will be spent.

Unless this boost in cancer diagnosis is matched with an equal boost in treatment services and the workforce to deliver them, cancer services will continue to fall short.

The future of the workforce is now the most significant threat facing the NHS today; we need urgent investment in a workforce plan.

Without highly-skilled staff to work in the diagnostic centres, we will simply not reap the benefits of them.

We need investment in equipment needed for treatments like radiotherapy, which plays a vital role in cancer care and continues to be the stand out cancer treatment during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, I joined colleagues and cancer professionals in presenting another petition to Downing Street, set up by the CatchUpWithCancer campaign, which was signed by over 370,000 people.

The campaign was launched in conjunction with Craig and Mandy Russell, who lost their daughter Kelly at the age of just 31 to bowel cancer. Her life expectancy was drastically cut short after her cancer treatment was stopped as a direct result of the Covid-19 response.

The cancer backlog is huge. Without a fully funded plan to increase the number of staff and train the future cancer workforce, more patients will see their treatment unnecessarily delayed.

Investment in cancer treatment services and the cancer workforce needs to be expanded to match investment in cancer diagnosis.

We must ensure that people living with cancer get the support they need and deserve now and in the future.

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