Feryal Clark: On World Cancer Day, We Should Commit To A Better Future For Patients

The shadow health minister says those needing treatment can't afford more delays and missed targets
Peter Byrne via PA Wire/PA Images

Cancer is something that will touch all our lives.

Whether a friend, a family member, a colleague, or ourselves, everyone has a challenge to face and a story to tell.

World Cancer Day is an opportunity to tell those stories, raise awareness of the challenges they create, and commit to a better future for cancer patients.

The theme of this year’s World Cancer Day is “Closing the Care Gap”, encouraging recognition of the inequities in cancer care and the devastating effects they can have.

When half of the world’s population lacks access to essential services, these are inequities that should concern all of us. We know that those who lack access to services will also have increased exposure to risk factors, creating a vicious cycle.

Here in the UK, we are constantly confronted by the very real and damaging effects that the care gap in cancer is having.

Thanks to a lack of focus on prevention, which has always been the cornerstone of Labour’s approach, we are seeing the situation continue to worsen. When Labour was last in government, we banned smoking indoors and cigarette advertising. The number of British adults who smoke has almost halved since then. In doing so, countless people have avoided disease and needing treatment.

Year after year of underfunding by Conservative governments sent us into the pandemic with rising waiting lists and missed targets, which has only been compounded in the last two years. This has left the NHS with a waiting list of six million people. That’s six million people having their lives put at risk. Six million people being left without a secure future. And six million families worried for a loved one.

The government’s target that 92 per cent of people needing cancer treatment be seen within 18 weeks has not been met since 2016. The pandemic then piled even greater pressures on a system already struggling to cope.

From March to July 2020 alone, Cancer Research UK estimate that there were 3.2 million fewer cancer diagnosis. That is millions of people without the security of a treatment pathway that diagnosis provides.

In the first 12 months of the pandemic, further CRUK estimates show around 330,000 fewer people were referred in England, meaning them missing out on vital care.

We know with cancer that early detection and treatment saves lives. So, for this government to leave patients so exposed going into the pandemic is simply unforgiveable. It is not just that they didn’t fix the roof whilst the sun was shining, they dismantled the roof and removed the floorboards.

After 12 years in power, the endless empty promises and commitments are wearing thin. We now have ministers wasting billions on dodgy contracts and faulty PPE while cancer patients struggle to get the care they need and deserve.

The next Labour government will ensure the NHS has the staff, modern equipment and technology needed to bring waiting lists down. Cancer patients can’t afford more delays and more missed targets. They deserve a secure future, with clear, timely, and effective treatment pathways.

It’s time for a government which will provide it.


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