Exactly 55,500 more people are waiting to get tests used to diagnose four common cancers compared to last year, according to Cancer Research UK analysis,* as the charity urges the public to support its vital work.
“We’re over the peak of the pandemic now, so it’s worrying there is an increasing number of patients whose lives are on pause while they wait for tests that could impact their chances of survival."- Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive.
As of May 30th, there were more than 180,000 people in England waiting for an endoscopy - a rise of 44% from the same time in 2019. And of these people, 66% are waiting six weeks or longer for these vital tests.
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Compared to last year:
51% more people are waiting for colonoscopies and 46% more for flexi-sigmoidoscopies, which are used to detect bowel cancer
44% more patients are waiting for gastroscopies, which help diagnose oesophageal and stomach cancer
23% more people are waiting for a cystoscopy, used for bladder cancer diagnosis
Cancer Research UK is concerned about these cancer types because endoscopies are proving particularly challenging to get back on track. The tests are more invasive and need more complex infection control measures, eating into the time available to do the test.
The situation is worrying because bowel cancer screening has been paused, and the number of urgent suspected cancer referrals and other GP referrals to hospitals have fallen since lockdown. So, the backlog on diagnostic services is mounting despite fewer people being referred for these types of tests in the first place.
And these delays are part of a wider problem in cancer testing facing the NHS.
New figures also released by Cancer Research UK today show that in total, around 2.3 million fewer tests that help diagnose cancer have taken place since lockdown compared to the same time last year.**
From March 1st to May 30th there was a 46% drop in numbers for seven tests that are commonly used to help spot the disease, including MRI scans, CT scans and ultrasound, as well as endoscopies.
The dip is for many reasons, including people putting off seeking help at the start of the pandemic and measures needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – such as social distancing, deep-cleaning of equipment and use of PPE – reducing capacity and slowing down normal service.
But staff shortages were already a concern before the pandemic with 1 in 10 diagnostic posts unfilled, and the demand now is even higher. It’s vital that the NHS uses all available diagnostic capacity, including in the independent sector, to massively reduce this backlog and get cancer services working.