I sympathise profoundly with anyone that has been affected by cancer and I pay tribute to those at Macmillan who work tirelessly to support people receiving cancer treatment but also to the families of those suffering with this horrific disease. Cancer diagnosis, treatment and care, and the NHS and care professional workforces employed in this area should play an important role in our NHS now and in the future.
I agree with you that improving cancer care relies on an efficient, properly staffed workforce which should be suitably trained and equipped to diagnose and care for patients during and beyond cancer. Our NHS and care staff do an incredible job under difficult circumstances and we should never stop thanking them for the work they do. Yet despite their brilliant efforts, years of pay restraint and a failure to invest in and plan appropriately for the workforce has resulted in over 100,000 vacancies across the NHS. Vacancies in adult social care are also rising, with one in 10 social worker and one in 11 care worker roles unfilled.
Cancer Research UK has observed that the vacancy level across diagnostic staff is at least 10% and the cancer patient experience survey revealed that 7% of cancer patients said that there were rarely or never enough nurses to care for them properly. This is not acceptable, especially when we know that early diagnosis leads to better outcomes.
The NHS Long Term Plan identifies cancer as a clinical priority and aims to boost survival by speeding up diagnosis. It includes welcome ambitions to extend screening and overhaul diagnostic services with the aim of diagnosis 75% of cancer at stages one or two by 2028. However, while the aspirations are welcome, I remain concerned that services will not improve while Ministers delay setting out a properly resourced workforce plan.
There must be a credible strategy to support and recruit the cancer care workforce for the future and it must be at the heart of the NHS plan. I have written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ask what the Government are going to do to ensure that the NHS and care workforce are fully supported to continue to provide the best care that they can. I will also continue to press Ministers at every opportunity to provide more resources for training and education and reverse its decision to scrap the training bursary so that the NHS can recruit the staff it needs for the future.
As soon as I have received a response from the Secretary of State, I will provide a further update.