I've spoken this afternoon with the Royal College of Pathologists and Macmillan Cancer Support to discuss the ongoing backlog around cancer diagnostics and treatment as we emerge from COVID restrictions.
Both organisations have raised their concerns with me around the shortfall in both the equipment and the workforce required to deal with the backlog, and outlined the limitations in terms of spare capacity to quickly deal with the delayed appointments and treatments that have arisen during the pandemic.
I have previously raised these concerns with Ministers - particularly around the need to increase the number of consultant histopathologists in training, as well as lab staff, radiographers, and so forth, all of whom take years to complete the requisite training. I was also grateful to RCoP and Macmillan for talking me through more immediate alternatives which could help ease the pressure on the backlog, including the national rollout of a digitisation of pathology to make it easier for test results, patient notes, clinical diagnoses, etc. to be joined-up across the NHS. I was very concerned to hear just how difficult the IT connectivity is within the NHS at the moment, and I do know that this is something that the Health Secretary is looking at.
I will be writing to Ministers in the Department for Health and Social Care, as well as the Treasury, on behalf of the Royal College and Macmillan, and setting out the policy outcomes that both organisations feel are needed to both tackle the backlog and to ensure the longer-term stability of cancer care within the NHS.