Supporting cancer research remains extremely important to me. World Cancer Day held annually on 4 February – provides a vital opportunity to recognise the advances made in cancer research, diagnosis, prevention and treatment, and to reflect on what more needs to be done (see my support on the day here).
I pay tribute to CRUK, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. It is the world’s largest independent cancer research charity, supporting a network of research at 90 institutions in more than 40 towns and cities across the UK. I commend its ambition to accelerate progress and see three-quarters of all people surviving the diseases within the next 20 years.
Supporting research and improving cancer diagnosis and treatment must be a key priority for the Government. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact across society, and not least on cancer pathways, with delayed diagnoses, tests and treatment. It is right that Ministers prioritise cancer care in our recovery.
Yet even before the pandemic, waiting lists were rising and cancer targets were repeatedly missed. I am concerned that years of NHS underfunding, cuts and a failure to tackle staff vacancies weakened and exposed our health service as the pandemic hit. As a result, waiting lists now stand at a record 6 million, hundreds of thousands of patients are waiting more than a year for treatment, and performance against key cancer targets is falling (see my column on the issue here).
Behind these saddening figures are people that have not been diagnosed who should have been and patients waiting anxiously to begin treatment.
I urge the Government to invest properly to bring down waiting lists, tackle the backlog of unmet clinical need and improve cancer care. As part of this, Ministers must urgently bring forward a long-term workforce strategy to recruit, retain, and train the staff we need. It is vital that our health service can provide effective, timely diagnosis and referral, and ensure all cancer patients receive the care and treatment they need.