Monday 28 September 2020 / 8:23 AM Health / Jonathan Ashworth

Labour calls for cancer screening catch up as new figures show further treatment delays

The Labour Party is calling for the national cancer screening programme to restart fully, as new data shows shockingly low numbers of people receiving treatment during the covid-19 pandemic.

Today (Monday) in the House of Commons, Labour will demand ministers outline a plan to tackle the growing backlog of non Covid care, especially for cancer treatment.

The number of people starting treatment for cancer after attending a national screening programme has hit a record low, with just 319 people getting treatment in July 2020.

The number of people starting treatment after attending a screening has plummeted by almost two thirds (64 per cent) compared to the same timeframe last year, suggesting that patients are finding it harder to access cancer screening.

Even more shockingly, despite the low numbers of people coming through the system, only a quarter went on to start their treatment on time in July – way below the operational standard of 90 per cent. In June, only 12.9 per cent of people who attended a national screening programme started cancer treatment within two months – the lowest figure by miles since records began.

Since the start of lockdown, 43 per cent of patients didn’t start their treatment on time after attending a screening, compared to 13 per cent in the same timeframe last year. Nationally, this target was last met in March 2018.

 National screening programmes are in place for breast, cervical and bowel cancers.  

Previous analysis from the Labour Party has highlighted the increasing backlog of care building up in the health service, with an increasing number of patients waiting too long for life saving scans and tests – some of which are also used to diagnose cancer.


Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care secretary, said:

 “Finding out you have cancer from a routine screening is already a scary thing to go through without the added anxiety of having to wait for months to start treatment.

“Under normal circumstances a drop in the number of people having to have cancer treatment would be positive, but given what we know has happened over the pandemic it instead looks like people are having trouble accessing screening altogether. It’s especially worrying because we know that early diagnosis and treatment is key to surviving cancer. 

“Ministers tell us the NHS has ‘coped’ through the Covid-19 peak but that was on the back of cancelled operations, delayed scans and diagnostic tests.

“Estimates suggest two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment and that 1600 cases of cancer are currently left undiagnosed every month.

“It’s now urgent ministers bring forward a plan to tackle the backlog in non Covid-19 care.”