Cancer backlog ‘could take over a decade to clear’, says new report


t could take over a decade to clear the cancer treatment backlog in England, a new report suggests.

The pandemic has taken such a big toll that an estimated 19,500 people have not been diagnosed with cancer that should have been due to missed referrals, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPS) think tank and the CF health consultancy.

Their new study calculated that even if “stretched” hospitals could achieve five per cent more treatments and procedures than before the pandemic, it will still take until 2033 to clear the cancer treatment “missing patients backlog”.

If that figure could be pushed up to 15 per cent then backlogs could be cleared by next year, the report suggests.

One of the main issues in cancer care is around diagnosis, with the pandemic leading to a 37 per cent drop in endoscopies, a 25 per cent drop in MRI scans and a 10 per cent drop in CT scans than expected, the study said.

While the number of people who need cancer treatment has not changed, the research shows that during the height of the pandemic (March 2020 to February 2021):

– 369,000 fewer people than expected were referred to a specialist with suspected cancer (15 per cent lower than expected),

– 187,000 fewer chemotherapy treatments (seven per cent lower than expected),

– 15,000 fewer radiotherapy treatments (13 per cent lower than expected).

The report said: “Behind these statistics are thousands of people for whom it will now be too late to cure their cancer.

“We estimate that the number of cancers diagnosed while they are still highly curable (stage one and two) fell from 44 per cent before to pandemic to 41 per cent last year.”

The study suggests that treating 90 per cent of these people when they are eventually diagnosed could mean the backlog in chemotherapy and radiotherapy could take until 2028 and 2033 respectively to clear.


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