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‘Lives are at risk’, government and NHS need to get a ­grip on cancer | UK | News

Hospital radiology room with mri scanner machine

For over a year now, the Express has been campaigning for a boost in radiotherapy funding. (Image: Getty)

The Daily Express and radiotherapy campaigners have laid down the gauntlet to all major political parties to commit to a national strategy to end the cancer crisis.

We are demanding they include a pledge for a dedicated National Cancer Plan in their general election manifesto.

Leading oncologist Professor Pat Price said the calls for action on cancer are “becoming deafening”. She said the “remarkable openness and courage” of the King and Princess of Wales in facing their cancer diagnoses has helped shine a spotlight on cancer care, inspiring countless people to get checked.

The clarion call comes as figures show the NHS missed two out of three national cancer targets. The goal of at least 75% of patients receiving a diagnosis or all-clear within four weeks of a referral was the only aim which was met, with a figure of 77% in March.

But this still meant more than 58,000 ­people waited longer than four weeks.

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Meanwhile, 91% of patients had their first treatment within 31 days of a decision to intervene, against a target of 96%.

And just 69% were treated within 62 days of an urgent referral, against a target of 85%.

NHS cancer services have struggled to keep up with rising demand while trying to clear a backlog of Covid delays.

However, March saw the health service deliver more than a quarter of a million urgent cancer appointments – the highest on record and more than 12,500 per day.

Cancer treatment was also at its highest level with more than 1,400 patients getting started every day, NHS England said. Writing in today’s Daily Express, Prof Price, chairwoman of the charity Radiotherapy UK, makes two demands.

That political parties commit to a National Cancer Plan and to more investment, particularly in the radiotherapy sector.

She said: “This really matters, lives are at risk. What is so heartbreaking and so frustrating is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

“The Government and NHS can get a ­grip on cancer.”

The Express has contacted all major parties likely to stand candidates at the general election, widely expected to be this autumn.

The Conservative Party wouldn’t be drawn on future manifesto pledges but Downing Street said the NHS would have met Rishi Sunak’s target to cut waiting lists if there had been no strikes.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM pays tribute to NHS staff who are working tirelessly to cut the waiting lists.

“In today’s data we have seen the biggest six-month reduction in the waiting list in over 10 years outside of the pandemic and that is a significant achievement in the ­context of the pressures, obviously the industrial action, we’ve seen.”

Reform UK leader Richard Tice said: “The cancer crisis is due to gross negligent mismanagement at many levels.

“We have amongst the worst outcomes in the Western world. Cancer care, like the whole of healthcare in the UK, needs reform.

“Only Reform UK has a plan to get to zero waiting lists in two years and cancer care waits must be limited to days, not months.”

Lib Dem Health and Social Care spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “We know that one in two people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime, so it’s vital that the next Government gets serious about ­tackling cancer. Liberal Democrats have already set out an ambitious five-year cancer support plan, including a guarantee that every single patient starts treatment within two months following an urgent referral, massively boosting cancer survival rates.”

Labour and the Green Party have also been contacted.

For more than a year now, the Express has been campaigning for a boost in radiotherapy funding. Our campaign has three demands:

● A rolling programme of new radiotherapy machines.

● Satellite radiotherapy centres in areas without treatment facilities.

● A boost to the radiotherapy workforce to break the backlog and get the UK to the top of the survival league tables. To do this, the service needs a £1billion boost over five years. Our crusade is backed by Radiotherapy UK and #CatchUpWithCancer campaign. Manchester United and England football legend Bryan Robson, 66, who ­survived cancer after lifesaving radiotherapy in Thailand, is also supporting us.

The treatment is needed in four out of 10 cancer cases and to help half of all patients with the disease.

Estimates suggest cases will rise from 375,000 per year to more than half a million by 2040 if trends continue. Deaths are set to increase by almost a quarter.

Yet the Government has scrapped its 10-year cancer plan – a strategy to invest in services – announced two years ago by then-health secretary Sajid Javid. Radiotherapy services are already stretched, despite a ­typical cure costing as little as £3,000. Some chemotherapy drugs can cost up to £100,000 per year per patient.

Radiotherapy delivered by a relatively small team of specialists – less than 6,500 –has been transformed in the past decade.

But the UK does not have enough machines, an ageing supply and the demand for new replacements not being met.

France has 8.5 machines per million population but England has only 4.8 machines per million. And there are radiotherapy “desert areas” where patients have to take long journeys to reach a centre.

Currently, 3.5 million people live outside the recommended travel time of 45 minutes. New machines – which cost around £2.4million – can treat more patients more quickly.

Over the next five years the UK will need 200 new devices to catch up. Experts say it is a worthwhile investment, reducing the bill for each patient’s treatment to just £400.

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