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Let's beat cancer sooner

A leaked memo to staff at Churchill Hospital in Oxford hit headlines yesterday.

Worryingly, it suggested that chemotherapy treatment could be delayed for cancer patients, and some who are terminally ill may face cuts to their rounds of chemo, due to staff shortages.

The Government was told about severe staff shortages in NHS cancer care and that this was an urgent problem back in 2015. The NHS Cancer Strategy for England that I authored highlighted pressures facing those staff who treat cancer, which prevent some patients being seen quickly and receiving the best possible care and support.

But for too long there has been no progress.

The problem is not new. Workforce planning in the NHS has been shockingly poor for decades, through successive Governments. For three years Cancer Research UK has been urging the Government to tackle cancer staff shortages in the NHS. It’s totally unacceptable that these shortages could now lead to delays in patients getting treatment.

This latest episode at the Churchill Hospital, where chemotherapy may be delayed due to lack of specialist nursing staff, adds to a growing list. Reports of lung cancers being left undiagnosed because of a lack of radiologists emerged late last year, and the Care Quality Commission is now investigating this. We need immediate action from the Government to deal with these problems, otherwise desperate measures, like the one suggested at Oxford, will become more widespread and more severe.

Looking to the future, 150,000 extra people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer annually by 2035. We need more staff in the NHS, with the right training and support, to deal with the increasing number of cancer patients who will be diagnosed and need treatment. For example, our recent report suggests that by 2022 the NHS may only have half the number of specialist cancer doctors needed to deliver the best care, with a potential shortage of between 1,281 – 2,067 staff estimated. In this report, nearly 3 in 4 members of the cancer workforce said that staff shortages were already having a direct impact on their ability to deliver the best treatment for patients.

Health Education England recently published its first ever plan to deal with the staff shortages in cancer care. But it relies heavily on stretched local areas acting and making difficult spending decisions, and will not change the situation overnight.

We have a national ambition to achieve world class cancer outcomes for all patients, of which we are rightly proud. We will not get close to achieving this – and to offering patients the best chance of long term survival – without tackling crippling workforce shortages. This issue will not go away without action and we call on the Government to address these concerns urgently.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK

Get involved

Email your MP and ask them to find out what their local health teams need to make the new cancer workforce plan a reality.


Ivor Williams February 8, 2018

I had bladder cancer and it was found and treated promptly and professionally by the NHS. Still having checks obvioulsy and my last one was done, via NHS, through a private hospital. That treatment was the worst I have received. It was more ‘examine as many as possible in as shorter time as possible to get more money’. The check was painful, no care nor chance to consult. Being told ‘your prostate is rather large’ but then not being told what to do next is not caring and quite scary. Give the NHS more, leave the private sector out of it. Forget the politics, have a ‘joint party plan’ so the politicians can stop sniping at each other and trying to get cheap political points. We need action from ALL parties and a joint committee.

James. Ross February 8, 2018

I really think that medication and treatments are going backwards. Due to the attitude of this government. The people of this country should take one of two actions. Firstly to force the government to sit and pay attention to what good that has already been done and that under surveys the people will not stand for any more cuts. Or that the people of this country make a contribution each year solely for the N.H.S. and towards cancer research.
I very much doubt that any of the two will happen. Unless someone with the attitude geared towards managing the idea.

Alison McGale February 8, 2018

I am shocked to read that there is a intention to delay such important treatment. Having gone through treatment treatment just over 8 years ago, I wanted to have the treatment as soon as possible, there was a psychological impact in that I felt I had a better chance of the treatment being successful, and it has succeeded thankfully. I received excellent treatment from diagnoses to date. I do not think terminally ill patients should potentially have their lives shortened by having their treatment cut, unless the patient themself requests the treatment stop. I do feel their is a need for a overhaul of NHS with streamlining some administrative aspects such as contacting patients to give their availability for appointments and then having them still wait for an appointment, this could and should be completed on one contact, small matter but could save costs.

Alison Johnston February 8, 2018

Cancer patients shouldn’t be harmed by NHS staff shortages! Exactly!!
Only this week BBC news aired an MP asking for NHS funding for people trying to stop smoking ‘because they’ve tried so many times and it’s very difficult for them’………
I sincerely hope that the Government would not consider funding this bill ahead of cancer patients? I have personally seen how understaffed and overworked our local Cancer unit is, it should not matter where you live, treatment should be available to all giving the best possible outcome!

Sue Murfitt February 8, 2018

I think its time that all political parties decide to put away the constant bickering about what they would do and for once work together to sort out the problems the NHS are experiencing. We all benefit so work together and not try to score points against each other

Maureen Ward February 8, 2018

I am lucky, I have survived cancer thus far, but the treatment I received when in Northwick Park Hospital was appalling. The staff including the surgeon couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, the standard of care was absolutely abysmal and made the whole experience so much worse. I absolutely agree the government must rethink their attitude to the NHS.

Ron Hunt February 8, 2018

I have had bladder and skin cancer and I am fully aware of the importance of prompt remedial action.The government needs to ensure sufficient funds are allocated in this area.

Barbara Harrsis February 8, 2018

This is disgraceful, we do realise the NHS is struggling of course and NEEDS the funding!
Fortunately for themselves, those who make these decisions can afford to pay for treatment privately for themselves and their loved ones! Not the average person.

Mrs Valerie Errington February 8, 2018

The government waste a lot of money the N H S is a wonderful system.more staff needed better wages there should be no discussion regarding health. The government should realise this.

Mike February 8, 2018

It was reported on the BBC this week (Midlands Today) that the Queen Elisabeth (QE) Hospital cancelled cancer treatment in January.
The QE is a hospital which is a centre of excellence for Cancer Treatment!! If this is happening at the QE goodness knows what’s happening in the rest of the country!!!!

Beryl Rogers February 8, 2018

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and I’m still enjoying life nearly 5 years on. I have nothing but praise for the Shooting Star team in Wrexham.
They and the treatments are the reason I’m able to post this comment.
Cancer does not allow you time to experiment with alternatives

Violet Smith February 8, 2018

If you delay chemotherapy in patients where the treatment has been shown to destroy the cells and prolong life, you may as well forget using it altogether. Think of the money you’d save! No more ongoing support for long term survivors because there won’t be any. OR and this is a biggie, research a safer less invasive alternative to the poison cocktail that chemo actually is and it might be a cheaper option which requires fewer well trained staff and no hospital stays. The key as always is where you choose to put your money.

Diane Rice February 8, 2018

This is a terrible situation and should be dealt with immediately…!!

Tracy February 8, 2018

Chemotherapy – the word itself makes people think of bad things.
So you loose your hair – big deal
So you feel really unwell – that’s a deal
You see a light at the end if the tunnel because of it – now that is a really big deal
Many of us cancer survivors are here because of it – that is the real deal
When they trialed drugs and chemo on us in 1973 it was to benefit the patients of the future and to me I can see that it has helped enormously.
I’m really proud of the fact that I helped make survival a reality.
The simple fact is that you need chemotherapy to go hand in hand with the rest of your treatment to make it work
Why have a treatment that can implement a possible cure stopped or capped?
Everyone should be given a shot at getting well and living life to the full.

Linda craddock February 8, 2018

Chemotherapy should end, it’s invasive and does more harm than good, I should know, been there! This time ( my third battle with cancer) I am going it alone, healthy eating and healthy lifestyle, and getting positive results, never felt so fit and healthy! STOP the chemotherapy!

Russell Cook February 8, 2018

I thought I was contributing to a worthy research charity – not a political movement. I shall be cancelling my monthly subscription immediately.

Jackie February 8, 2018

Totally agree, government need to act quick, if they were in need of chemotherapy they would need the staff, so does everyone else.couldntthank them enough through mine.

Margaret Greenwood February 8, 2018

I found I had breast cancer last April had my breast removed told the lump had been removed them had chemotherapy only 2 courses but on injections every 3 weeks and drip every 6 months to stop bone cancer from day one the doctors and staff have been marvellous at both hospitals I attend even those very busy

Barbara Simpson February 8, 2018

This situation is embarrassing and extremely worrying. Time to take the Great out of Great Britain because we are not great anymore

Tim Green February 7, 2018

Whilst under going my own treatment at Addenbrokes Hospital for cancer and being the kind of individual who always asks questions? I asked just how much my Foxlow Platinum chemo per bag costs. I was given a figure of some £1600.00, plus all the other items of the process and nursing staff wages, made each treatment sevetal thousands of pounds. The staff that I discussed this with said that the then Tory government at the time, 2013 were already working upon the Darwinian doctrine adopted by the Third Reich, by holding discussions about implimentimg a programme of assessment based upon a life worthy of life policy, the primer reasons were solely for the economic points system of return and social worth that each cancer sufferer scores. I know that there are many areas within British society that becoming highly toxic due to this present government and run counter to the ethics that drove Britain into WW-2. I do not wish this nation to become engage in another civil war, for the NHS has enough work on its plate, without further casualties as a result of weak and corupt leadership, who through having to clutch at straws totally lack any civilised alternatives to remandy the many problems facing Britain is is now fast turning this adminastration into becoming a parallel to the monsters of the twentieth century and all because of the love of money, has now devalued human life. This government my rue the day that I survived cancer and you may live to hate me, if my involvement generates an even higher burden upon what is one of the great pillars of our society and that is the NHS. If you wish to discuss this in private then please feel free to do so.

Mrs Dawn Asplen February 7, 2018

I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and to see our nurses and doctors working so hard is quite worrying I am having a mastectomy next week and hopefully everything will be ok but when you here things about our N H S it gets quite worrying more needs to be done so that we are close to achieving a better chance of long term survival without having to tackle workforce shortages because this will not go away without taking action and we have to ask the government to do more to save our N H S from disappearing altogether

Dawn Clancy February 7, 2018

As a patient diagnosed with breast cancer in Dec 2017 I have had very prompt treatment and the nurses and consultant are amazing.. however they are always rushed off there feet and running around trying to deal with all the patients but always with a smile not an easy job .. so no more cut backs .. it’s shameful!!!!

Michelle Howen February 7, 2018

At 37 I was diagnosed with 2 types of breast cancer, my treatment plan was very invasive as I needed both chemotherapy & surgery to have a double mastectomy meaning I was back & forth to both hospital sites, the LRI for my chemo & The breast care unit at the Glenfield hospital for the surgery side. Having sat back & watched how the staff work & witnessing the ratio of staff to patient in the chemo-suite was heartbreaking, on one occasion 59 patients to 5 nurses! Yet no matter how under pressure the nurses were they always had time for each patient. It’s ok the management who sit in their comfy offices making these cuts but would they have the same opinion if they were to spend a day in the shoes of those doctors & nurses who treat us cancer patients to save our lives?!?!

P.Chalk February 7, 2018

It is time people stopped bleating about wanting more money and staff. Its the Management of these moaning hospitals that require a kick up the backside.

Linda February 7, 2018

Pay the people well, make sure they feel valued
Train staff like they use too!! So they can do their job properly. Care should be holistic.
Bring back the important issues.