Cancer cases will go undetected amid the rising NHS backlog, Labour’s new shadow health secretary has warned.
Wes Streeting drew on his own experience with kidney cancer, where the disease was only picked up because he was getting a scan for another reason.
He said “timing is everything” with cancer, as he urged ministers to publish their recovery plan to tackle the backlog which has built up throughout the pandemic.
It comes as a new National Audit Office (NAO) report warned the NHS waiting list could double in just over three years.
There are currently 5.83 million people waiting for care and the NAO said this figure could rise to 12 million by March 2025.
Mr Streeting told LBC Radio: “I had kidney cancer earlier this year and went through successful treatment for that.
“When it comes to cancer treatment and cancer outcomes, timing is everything.
“I’m very worried that we’ve got an NHS backlog approaching six million already – that’s set to increase significantly in the next few years and waiting times are set to worsen.
“In my case, the only reason I knew I had kidney cancer, the only reason I’m talking to you this morning cancer free, is because I have kidney stones.
“In a scan for something entirely different, my cancer was detected.
“In that big NHS backlog, for all sorts of operations, there will undoubtedly be cancer cases that will go undetected.
“That’s why we urgently need from the Government an elective care recovery plan to get those NHS waiting lists down, to shorten waiting times and speed up cancer treatment, because when it comes to cancer, timing is everything.”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, told Sky News that dealing with the backlog is “immensely challenging”.
She said: “It is true to say that the health service is under immense pressure at the moment.
“The last thing that anyone wanted to hear was that we have a new variant of Covid to also grapple with because trying to deal with that backlog of care is immensely challenging.
“We’ve got huge staff vacancies and we are also looking at the huge pressure on urgent and emergency care and other services, including mental health and community services.
“I think it’s fair to say that the NHS is kind of on stand-by to expand its capacity, should it need to do that.
“It does come at a cost that… will be potentially cancelling routine operations, longer waits for people who come in to A&E, for example, so we know that those challenges are there.”