18th October 2019

Charity calls for ‘radical change of priorities’ to save lives

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The UK’s only charity dedicated to helping people with all forms of lung cancer is calling for a ‘paradigm shift’ to resolve issues currently limiting the NHS’s ability to diagnose the disease.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is a member of the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) whose new study on the National Optimal Lung Cancer Pathway shows that Britain has far fewer scanners or staff to operate them than other European countries.

The study reveals that there are not enough scanners or staff to operate them, putting the NHS far behind other European countries, including France, Germany and Spain.

When you receive a diagnosis of suspected lung cancer, it’s not about the number of days until you get access to treatment, but about the number of sleepless nights until you do.

Sir Mike Richards

It also points out that a simple administration role could help to double the number of patients treated quickly, but that local cancer networks are struggling to fund the position.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, who was the UK National Cancer Director between 1999 to 2013, said patients suffer delays in getting diagnosed and subsequent treatment due to NHS problems:

“Our diagnostic capacity is woefully poor. CT scanning rates, for instance, are much lower than those in France, Germany or Spain. There is a need to speed up diagnosis and treatment.

“When you receive a diagnosis of suspected lung cancer, it’s not about the number of days until you get access to treatment, but about the number of sleepless nights until you do.”

In the UK, there are only seven radiologists per 100,000 people, which is “significantly below” the EU average of 12, the report said.

It also found there are only 8 CT scanners per million people in the UK, compared with an EU average of 21.4

CT screening saves lives

Our charity ran pilot projects in Nottingham to show the effectiveness of making CT scans readily available to people most at risk of developing lung cancer, and earlier this year the NHS announced the roll-out of 14 early diagnosis lung health check projects in ten locations across the country.

Bill Simpson (left) was diagnosed early through our lung cancer screening pilot

Now though, our chief executive, Paula Chadwick fears there is a real danger that lives could be lost unnecessarily because of ageing NHS equipment and staff shortages:

“We were delighted when Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, announced earlier this year that these lung health checks, similar to our own pilot schemes, would be offered across the country.

“Early detection is the key to being able to offer patients treatment with curative intent, or to helping them live better for longer. Our pilot schemes helped to prove that.

“But now we fear all that good work could be undone because, as the UKLCC report shows so clearly, the NHS does not have sufficient resources, in terms of equipment and the staff to operate it. 

“Change has to be a major priority. We’re calling for extra, newer, better equipment, and more staff to be trained up quickly. We also need to look hard at bringing onstream modern techniques such as Artificial Intelligence as quickly as possible.

“We need a radical change of priorities, a paradigm shift, otherwise lives could be lost despite the best efforts of all involved in bringing the new lung health checks forward. For us, that’s the bottom line”.