NHS cancer services buckling, warns leading charity
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Cancer Research UK has warned that NHS cancer services are “in crisis”, with the charity calling on the government to invest further in staff and research into the disease.
In a report published on Tuesday, the world’s largest cancer research charity said NHS England would need to train a further 16,000 full-time staff by 2029 to care for the half a million people expected to be diagnosed with the condition each year by 2040.
“The cancer crisis is urgent and it’s real,” the report said, adding: “Across the UK, cancer waiting times are being consistently missed, and some have not been met for over a decade.”
Health leaders in the UK have consistently warned that an array of key cancer targets have not been hit in recent years. The strains on the NHS this year have been worsened by strikes by doctors. In August, the government announced plans to cut cancer waiting-time targets.
But Cancer Research UK’s 200-page “programme for government”, which it said could help avoid up to 20,000 cancer deaths a year by 2040, warned of a £1bn shortfall in research funding by 2033 as the government has yet to commit to maintaining levels of spending in the field in real terms.
Just 38 per cent of all publicly funded cancer research in the UK comes from the government, the charity said, adding that the US government funds five times more cancer research “per capita” than the UK.
The report said that charities have long had to “pick up the burden of decades of under-investment”.
The party that wins the next general election had to commit to developing a decade-long plan to tackle the disease, the report said. The charities’ “manifesto” calls for the establishment of a National Cancer Council accountable to the prime minister.
Consistent funding and long-term strategies to improve early diagnosis through screening programmes could help the UK catch up with its European counterparts, the charity said on Tuesday.
Cancer Research UK’s report welcomed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to create the first “smoke-free generation” with a new law to stop children aged 14 or younger this year ever being sold cigarettes legally in England.
Ministers had to “urgently progress” the proposed legislation, the charity said, which would make it an offence for anyone born on or after January 1 2009 to be sold tobacco products — in effect raising the smoking age by a year every 12 months until a ban applied to the whole population.
Cancer Research said such measures had the potential to prevent around 18,200 cases of the disease in England by 2040.
“Cancer is the defining health issue of our time,” said Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive. “Avoiding thousands of cancer deaths is possible, but it will take leadership, political will, investment and reform.
The Department for Health and NHS England did not immediately comment.