My contribution to Tuesday’s Opposition Day Debate on Expanding the NHS Workforce:

I am honoured to speak in the debate and to follow my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley). I, too, place on record my thanks and appreciation and solidarity with all groups of NHS workers, who go above and beyond in keeping us safe and looking after us. In the limited time available, I will concentrate my remarks on the NHS cancer workforce, particularly the NHS radiotherapy workforce. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary groups on cancer and for radiotherapy.

It is important to think about the impact of the Government’s plan—or lack thereof. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, on being a man with a plan; I hope that the Minister is a woman with a plan to address the real crisis in cancer services and to take the opportunity afforded by making the best use of and expanding our highly dedicated and highly skilled radiotherapy and cancer workforce.

Our performance as a nation is lamentable: cancer patients have been waiting longer for treatment every year since 2010, partly due to problems with workforce recruitment and retention. Performance on the two-week cancer referral waiting time has fallen to record lows and the 62-day waiting time standard for cancer treatment following a GP referral has not been met since 2014. It is really important that the potential of radiotherapy, and of the workforce, is not overlooked by Ministers. They must take steps to address the cancer backlog and improve patient survival rates.

I refer the Minister and hon. Members to an excellent article by Martyn Brown—not in the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror, but in the traditionally Conservative-supporting Express—that highlights some of the shortcomings in the radiotherapy service. In that article, Bryan Robson, the former England and Manchester United captain, expounds and explains the value of precision radiotherapy. It is quite bizarre that a treatment capable of achieving cures for as little as £3,000 to £7,000 is delivered by fewer than 6,500 specialist staff across the whole of the country. The demands are increasing: Cancer Research UK estimates that the number of cancer patients per year will jump from 384,000 to over 500,000 by 2024. Many of those patients will need radiotherapy, but at present, the workforce levels and the provision of equipment will not meet that demand. I remind the Minister that, among those people who will be diagnosed with cancer, deaths are projected to rise by a quarter.

International standards show that at least 53% of cancer patients need radiotherapy, but here in the UK, we are miles off that target. Only 27% of patients had access to radiotherapy in 2019, and that figure got worse during the pandemic. There is a crisis in cancer care; there is a lack of treatment capacity; and there is a workforce crisis in radiotherapy. The Royal College of Radiologists estimates that the NHS would need to employ 480 radiology consultants overnight to clear the backlog of CT and MRI scans within a month. Numerous workforce surveys point out that the workforce do not have the equipment to meet future demands, and 94% of respondents to one survey did not feel that the Government understood the impact of the current situation on the radiotherapy workforce. If we lose our radiotherapy workforce, we lose the radiotherapy service. If we do not give those people the tools to do the job, we will never have a world-class cancer service.

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