Labour will demand answers on how minister plan to clear the daunting backlog in non-coronavirus care as numbers of cancer patients getting treatment after screening hit a new low.
NHS figures show just 319 people started treatment in July after attending a national screening programme for breast, cervical and bower cancers.
The figure has plummeted by 64% compared to the same time last year, suggesting patients are finding it harder to access cancer screening.
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 90 per cent standard.
In June, only 12.9% of people who attended a national screening programme started cancer treatment within two months – the lowest figure 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.
Labour will demand in Parliament that ministers outline plans to clear the daunting backlog in non-coronavirus care.
NHS bosses cancelled thousands of routine appointments at the start of the pandemic to prevent the health service from being overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.
But the move has since prompted fears many patients with other illnesses have been put at risk by being unable to access care.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “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.”
The BMA previously warned that tens of thousands of patients would suffer if routine care was shut down during a second wave of the virus.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Cancer diagnosis and treatment has remained an absolute priority throughout the pandemic, which is why the NHS established dedicated cancer hubs for urgent treatment and diagnosis – separate to hospitals dealing with Covid-19.
“This has meant that by June radiotherapy treatment had returned to pre-pandemic levels, and the latest figures from July show that 180,000 people received an urgent cancer check and over 90 per cent were seen within two weeks.
“Our message is clear – anyone who is concerned or needs treatment for cancer should come forward, and support is available.”