I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by cancer and I share the concern that cancer pathways have been affected by COVID-19. Estimates suggest that over two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment; we need to restore cancer treatment and research in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Government said that the NHS has “coped” throughout the peak of the pandemic. Sadly, this has come on the back of cancelled operations and delayed scans and diagnostic tests. I join with cancer charities, including Breast Cancer Now, in calling on the Government to work closely with the NHS to ensure it has enough staff and resources to clear the backlog of unmet clinical need.
With record numbers of patients waiting for diagnostic tests, I believe we need an urgent and fully resourced plan to tackle this backlog and enable our health service to move between the competing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and non-COVID-19-related care.
I also believe that improving cancer care relies on an efficient cancer workforce. Ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, I believe that the Government must put together a lasting solution to recruit and retain the cancer workforce to ensure that there are enough skilled staff to provide safe and effective cancer care now and in the future.
The pandemic has also had an impact on medical research charities, which have been unable to fundraise over this period. In April, the Government announced a support package for charities across the UK. While I welcome this funding, I am concerned that the money falls short. Reports suggest that only five of 152 Association of Medical Research Charities members are eligible to benefit from the Government’s support package. I hope that the Government will listen to the sector and look again at what additional financial support can be provided.
More widely, I recognise the calls for the Government to fund a National Secondary Breast Cancer Audit to ensure the NHS can meet the needs of those living with secondary breast cancer. I am aware of written questions which have been tabled asking the Government to commit to this audit, but Ministers have yet to answer these in full.
I have raised these concerns with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, using a letter provided by Breast Cancer Now. I have posted a copy below.
I can assure you that my Opposition colleagues and I will continue to press the Government to do all it can to restore non-COVID-19-related care and clear the backlog of cases.