We have all seen or heard negative news stories about cancer care during the pandemic and reflected on the terribly sad situation that huge numbers of cancers will have been diagnosed at a later stage than expected.  The unprecedented situation we have found ourselves in has been devastating in so many ways and to so many individuals and families.  However, when we read the NHS Cancer Program Quarterly Report this week, we felt that there were positives, which seem to have been hidden away and that they deserve to be highlighted and recognised.

The long-term plan for cancer care in the NHS is that:

  • By 2028 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer at least 5 years after diagnosis.
  • By 2028, the proportion of patients diagnosed at stage one and two will rise from just over half to three quarters.

Some astounding achievements

Despite unimaginable pressure on staff and resources the report demonstrates that the NHS has responded and coped during the pandemic.  

The 'Help Us, Help You' campaign was launched to encourage us all to seek help if we were concerned about any symptoms and reassured us that the NHS was open and that it was (and remains) safe.   

Alongside this, diagnostic capacity was increased – there are currently fifty Rapid Diagnostic Centres focusing on two-week referral pathways to aid faster and more accurate cancer diagnosis.  Early diagnosis is the key to a better chance of survival for all cancers.  This investment will make a difference to the lives of individuals and families and its significance cannot be undermined.

Thirdly, a £160 million initiative for COVID-friendly cancer treatments was launched in April. Changes were implemented to ensure that cancer treatments could safely continue in COVID-19 secure cancer hubs and through altered treatment plans which reduce risk, for example fewer doses and therefore less hospital trips or remote treatments such as chemo at home or via 'chemo buses'.

Thanks to the efforts of NHS staff at all levels, almost 1.5 million people were urgently referred for cancer investigation and over 203,000 people started their first cancer treatment between the months of March and November 2020.  95% of these did so within 31 days.  During those same month’s cancer treatments were maintained at 88% of the level they were in 2019.  This is a fantastic effort when considering the wider situation.

The Long Term Plan

A Cytosponge device

The government has committed £325 million in funding to support cancer diagnosis during 2021/22.  This funding will help achieve quicker and earlier diagnosis which, as we know, is the key to achieving the best outcome. 

One example of recent work towards the long term aims of the programme is the provision of clinical support to implement use of The Cytosponge, an innovation with which we, at Heartburn Cancer UK are also working.  There is lots more information about this exciting development in early diagnosis of Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer on our appeal page.  It’s a development which will improve prognosis and save lives.

You might also like to read the full report from the NHS Cancer Programme.  We really feel that it contains positive news and helps us look towards a brighter future for those diagnosed with many forms of cancer.