A charity has sounded the alarm over almost 50,000 “missing” cancer cases.
Macmillan Cancer Support said the scale of the cancer care backlog is “still to hit the NHS”, as it warned that further disruption from Covid-19 this autumn and winter could see the number of missing diagnoses increase further.
It also suggested that the early signs of improvement in clearing the backlog over summer “may have stalled”.
The charity calculated the number of so-called missed diagnoses by assessing data from across the four nations of the UK and finding the difference between expected and observed cancer diagnoses.
Macmillan said it is “deeply concerned” about how cancer services will cope when the patients eventually receive their diagnoses.
It raised concern about a “severe shortage” of cancer nurses and estimated that the NHS in England would need to work at 110% capacity for 13 months in a row to catch up with the number of people who should have started cancer treatment since March 2020.
Steven McIntosh, executive director of advocacy and communications at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Nearly two years into the pandemic, there is still a mountain of almost 50,000 people who are missing a cancer diagnosis.
“Thousands more are already facing delays and disruption as they go through treatment.
“While hard-working healthcare professionals continue to do all they can to diagnose and treat patients on time, they are fighting an uphill battle.
“Cancer patients are stuck, waiting in a system that doesn’t have the capacity to treat them fast enough, let alone deal with the backlog of thousands who have yet to come forward.”
“The Government has promised an NHS Elective Recovery Plan. This must show how it will tackle spiralling pressures on cancer services.
“It has never been more crucial to boost NHS capacity to treat and support everybody with cancer, so people receive the critical care they need now and in the years to come.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Cancer diagnosis and treatment is an absolute priority and nearly half a million people were checked for cancer in August and September this year – some of the highest numbers ever.
“We remain committed to delivering our long-term plan for tackling cancer and have backed the NHS with record investment, including £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years to deliver an extra nine million checks, scans and operations for patients across the country.
“Most cancer services are back to or above pre-pandemic levels and the latest NHS figures show a reduction in the number of patients waiting for a diagnostic scan for the first time this year, meaning more people are now getting the checks they need.”