Cancer crisis at ‘watershed moment’ as cancer pathway is ‘overwhelmed’ and upward trend in excess cancer deaths ‘likely to continue’ – The Lancet Oncology

In a paper published in The Lancet Oncology, dated 14 December 2022, leading oncologists and doctors have set out the desperate and urgent need for action to tackle the crisis engulfing UK cancer care services urging Ministers to tackle the situation with the same level of focus and urgency as was deployed to roll out the COVID vaccine.  They warn of the danger of the  Department of Health and Social Care and NHS not accepting ‘the true scale of the problem’ and set out their case that this is a defining ‘watershed moment’ for cancer care as the November NHS data confirmed that ‘in the last 12 months, 69,000 patients in the UK have waited longer than the recommended 62-day wait from suspected cancer referral to start of treatment (twice as many than in 2017-2018).’

The leading clinicians express their view that while the whole cancer pathway ‘seems overwhelmed’, some areas such as radiotherapy are now ‘critically threatened’ with collapse.  The paper quotes European research which suggests a 17% increase in UK cancer deaths due to delays in diagnosis and treatment and cites statistics showing ‘excess cancer deaths since March 2020 are already 8815 with 3327 in the last six months, and this trend is likely to continue’. 

Professor Gordon Wishart, Chief Medical Officer of Check4Cancer said, The COVID-induced cancer backlog is one of the deadliest backlogs and has served to widen the cracks in our cancer services. Readers will be shocked to learn that even before the pandemic, the UK was near the bottom of the cancer survival league tables. Now we face a deadly cancer timebomb of treatment delays that get worse every month because we don’t have a sufficiently ambitious plan from policymakers. I urge the Government to work with us.”

The paper sets out the solutions presented by frontline clinicians that can prevent excess deaths if the Government and NHS take action. It states that: “Currently some front-line staff are exhausted and too afraid to speak out, never mind feel part of the solution” and warns that “inefficient practices have emerged; secretarial support suspended so consultants are less productive than they should be, obsolete IT is slowing everyday work, workflow tools not being purchased and antiquated equipment such as radiotherapy machines so out of date they take twice as long as modern machines to treat patients less well than is possible.”

You can read the full articles from The Lancet below:



National press coverage of the article can also be read below: 

The Telegraph 

The Daily Mail