More than 60,000 Londoners with cancer are missing out on treatment, charity says

The number of Londoners starting cancer treatment since the pandemic began is 63,000 lower than expected, Macmillan Cancer Support says.

The NHS would need to work at 110% capacity for 14 months to clear the backlog, the cancer charity told the Health Committee of the London Assembly, as it presented its analysis of NHS England figures.

Emma Tingley, Macmillan Head of Partnerships for London, said: "We know that there are about 4,200 fewer people who’ve started cancer treatment between March 2020 and November 2021, which is a really significant number.

"Pre-pandemic, somebody was diagnosed with cancer every 15 minutes, so we now have around 230,000 people living with the diagnosis of cancer in London.

"We also know that around 63,000 fewer people than expected with suspected cancer have seen a specialist since the start of the pandemic."

London cancer figures:

  • 63,000 fewer Londoners seeing a specialist for suspected cancer

  • 4,200 fewer people starting cancer treatment since the start of the pandemic 

  • 230,000 people living with a cancer diagnosis

Macmillan said the backlog may lead to late diagnosis of patients, which would put the NHS under further pressure. It is calling for a "fully funded workforce strategy".

NHS chiefs urged anyone with signs or symptoms not to delay seeing their GP.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England National Clinical Director for Cancer, said: "When coronavirus first emerged, we saw patient numbers drop dramatically as people stayed away because of fear of the virus, or because they didn’t want to burden the NHS, despite experiencing cancer symptoms – but it’s vital people continue to come forward.

"The NHS continued cancer care throughout the pandemic and that remains the same. So, if you have a sign or symptom, such as a persistent cough that is not COVID, or prolonged discomfort in the abdomen, please come forward – we are open and ready to see and treat you.

"Coming forward and getting checked out could save your life".

On Thursday the Government announced the pilot of a cancer "hotline" for patients who are worried that they may have cancer but have no luck with their GP.

Maria Caulfield, minister for patient safety and primary care, told the Health and Social Care Committee the NHS is trialling cancer hotlines staffed by nurse specialists as a route towards rapid diagnosis of the disease.

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