Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage when potentially curative surgery is not possible. Survival rates are poor in comparison with other cancers and I believe improving outcomes should be a priority for the Government. Key to this will be increasing the number of diagnosticians, improving public awareness and screening programmes, and ensuring that GPs have the training, resources and support they need to identify symptoms and refer patients quickly.
The NHS long-term plan identifies cancer as a clinical priority and aims to boost survival by speeding up diagnosis. It includes welcome ambitions to extend screening and overhaul diagnostic services with the aim of diagnosing 75% of cancers at stages one or two by 2028. A review of cancer screening programmes and diagnostic capacity will also be undertaken and report back in the summer.
While the aspirations for improving cancer diagnosis are welcome, I remain concerned that the NHS will continue to be held back by cuts and chronic staff shortages. Almost nine years of austerity has pushed our NHS to the brink and it is patients who are paying the price: the national cancer treatment target has been repeatedly missed for four years and more than 500,000 patients are waiting beyond 18 weeks for care.
There are more than 100,000 vacancies across the NHS, yet Ministers have delayed setting out a workforce plan. Central investment in education and training has dropped from 5% of health spending in 2006-07 to 3% in 2018-19 and Cancer Research UK has pointed to shortages in the diagnostic workforce, with over one in 10 positions unfilled nationally.
The Labour shadow health team will press Ministers at every opportunity to do more to improve early diagnosis and treatment and to bring forward a credible strategy to support and recruit the cancer workforce for the future.