I am determined to ensure that the NHS locally are employing sufficient trained personnel to diagnose and treat cancers as quickly and effectively as possible. I believe that improving cancer diagnosis should be a key priority for the Government. We need to increase the number of diagnosticians, improve public awareness and screening programmes, and ensure that GPs have the training, resources and support they need to identify symptoms and refer patients quickly.
So I will, as you suggest, write to the East of England Cancer Alliance to ask what guidance and data they have had from Health Education England and NHS England. I will be particularly interested to hear how the Cancer Alliance intends to retain, attract and upskill sufficient diagnostic staff by March 2018.
I agree with you that the Cancer Strategy could go a long way towards helping the estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer. Ministers have now accepted the strategy’s recommendations and implementation is being led by NHS England’s National Cancer Strategy. However, the success of the strategy will largely depend on the level of resources that are made available for its implementation, and the number of people who are recruited to the medical profession. I note the huge shortage in various professions that you highlight in your message, and I am not convinced the Government is doing enough to fill the gap.
I am disappointed that the Government has repeatedly missed the national cancer target since January 2014. In the past year waiting lists have topped 4 million, the number of patients spending more than 4 hours in A&E has risen 250%, and the Royal College of Nursing has warned of a 40,000 shortfall of nursing staff. NHS England has already warned that treatment targets cannot be met and other benchmarks and standards may be at risk because the Chancellor did not provide the NHS with the money experts said it required at the Autumn Budget.
If the NHS is to deliver for patients and fulfil the Cancer Strategy by 2021, I believe it is essential that Ministers support the cancer workforce plan with the funding needed to make its ambitions a reality and to ensure cancer diagnosis, care and outcomes are improved.