Thank you for contacting me about cancer treatment during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The NHS is open for business and anyone who needs care and treatment should continue to access it as and when they need it, especially when delays could impose both an immediate and a long term risk to health.
When people start treatment for cancer, their medical team works with them to balance the risks and benefits of treatment before agreeing a plan. As a result of the pandemic, it may be that doctors consider the risks of certain treatments, particularly those that weaken the immune system, to be much greater than normal. They will take into consideration how urgent your treatment is: in some cases, delaying treatment might not make a big difference to the outcome. Patients with cancer visit hospitals regularly, but for those who are particularly vulnerable, this is more risky than usual as it may result in exposure to the virus.
Over the next three years, £36 billion will be invested in the health and care system to ensure it has the appropriate long term resources. The elective backlog will be tackled with the biggest catch-up programme in the NHS's history and I am reassured that cancer patients will continue to be prioritised. I especially welcome the doubling of spending this year, to £2 billion, to start this important work. More than £8 billion will be spent in the following three years from 2022-23 to 2024-25.
Cancer patients will benefit from these commitments, which could deliver the equivalent of around nine million more checks, scans and procedures. It will also mean the NHS can aim to deliver around 30 per cent more elective activity by 2024-25 than it did before the pandemic. £500 million in capital funding has been invested for extra theatre capacity and productivity-boosting technology, to increase the number of surgeries able to take place. Additionally, I warmly welcome the commitment of £2.3 billion in the 2021 Spending Review to transform diagnostic services. This will support the opening of at least 100 community diagnostic centres benefitting millions of patients who will be able to access earlier diagnostic tests closer to home.
Cancer is a priority for the Government and survival rates are at a record high. Since 2010 rates of survival from cancer have increased year-on-year. Around 7,000 people are alive today who would not have been had mortality rates stayed the same as then. I agree that we need to keep working on this, which is why I welcome the Government's stated aim to see three quarters of all cancers detected at an early stage by 2028 (currently just over half are detected at an early stage).
The NHS Long Term Plan (LTP), published during 2019, outlined a number of new measures for catching cancer early and providing treatment, with the aim that from 2028, 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer for at least five years after diagnosis. One of the measures outlined in the plan is safer and more precise treatment, including advanced radiotherapy techniques and immunotherapies to continue to support improvements in survival rates. This will be supported by a £130 million upgrade of radiotherapy machines, including £32 million to replace 17 Linear Accelerators aged over 10 years by the end of March 2022, as well as commissioning the NHS new state-of-the-art Proton Beam facilities.
In the past decade the clinical radiology workforce has increased by 48 per cent, from 3,239 to 4,797 full-time equivalent posts. While this is a significant percentage increase, the Government recognises that more can be done to increase the profession and build on this progress.
It is also encouraging that the 2021 Spending Review reaffirmed the Government’s commitments to recruiting 50,000 more nurses, providing hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funding over the next four years.
I hope this update is helpful and thank you again for taking the time to get in touch.