This annual event provides a vital opportunity to celebrate the advances the UK has made in diagnosis, treatment and care, and to reflect on what more needs to be done.
In the UK alone more than 360,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year and that figure is expected to rise to more than half a million by 2035. I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected and I pay tribute to the many cancer charities for their tireless efforts in funding research and providing support to patients and their families.
Improving cancer diagnosis should be a key 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.
Our NHS workforce do a fantastic job every day in caring for us and our loved ones, but there are chronic staff shortages across the NHS, with vacancies for more than 100,000 staff. Cancer Research UK has also pointed to shortages in the diagnostic workforce, with over one in 10 positions unfilled nationally. This is a worrying trend. Patients have a right to the best possible care and it is crucial that the NHS workforce can provide that.
The NHS Long-Term Plan, published in January, contains welcome ambitions to improve care quality and outcomes for cancer, with a focus on early diagnosis. Ministers must ensure that a credible, worked out strategy to support and recruit the cancer workforce is at the heart of that plan.
More widely, the Government has repeatedly missed the national cancer treatment target for over four years. Waiting lists are at 4.3 million and more than 500,000 patients are waiting beyond 18 weeks for treatment. If the NHS is to deliver for patients, it is essential that Ministers provide it with the funding it needs and urgently address staff shortages to make the ambitions in the NHS Long-Term Plan a reality.