Recovery from impact of COVID-19 on cancer services

Planning guidance 2021/22

New Planning Guidance was issued to the NHS on 25 March by NHS England and NHS Improvement, including a section dedicated to recovery of cancer services from the impact of the pandemic. This stated that local systems should ensure that there is sufficient diagnostic and treatment capacity in place to meet the needs of cancer and that systems should plan to:

  • Return the number of people waiting for longer than 62 days to the level we saw in February 2020 (or to the national average in February 2020 where this is lower)
  • Meet the increased level of referrals and treatment required to address the shortfall in number of first treatments by March 2022.

Cancer Alliances were also asked to draw up a single delivery plan on behalf of their integrated care systems for April 2021 to September 2021 focused on delivering three facets of recovery activity

  • Getting people to come forward
    • working with GPs and local populations
    • working with public health commissioning teams to restore all cancer screening programmes
  • Investigating and diagnosing
    • extending the centralised clinical prioritisation and hub model established for cancer surgery to patients on cancer diagnostic pathways
    • increasing use of innovations like colon capsule endoscopy and Cytosponge
    • accelerating introduction of Rapid Diagnostic Centre pathways
    • restoring first phase Targeted Lung Health Check projects and planning the launch of phase 2
  • Treatment
    • embedding the system first approach to collaboration established during the pandemic including centralised triage and surgical hubs where appropriate
    • agreeing personalised stratified follow up pathways in three additional cancer types and implement one by March 2022 in addition to breast, prostate and colorectal cancer.

Key highlights

Record high numbers of people have been referred for urgent cancer checks since March 2021 – 10,500 per working day.

Treatment volumes were at 99 in June 2021 compared with pre pandemic (June 2019).

For lower GI cancers in June 2021, nearly twice as many patients started treatment following screening than did so in June 2019.

From the start of the pandemic to now (March 2020 to the end of June 2021), over 2 9 million people were urgently referred, 89 of whom were seen within 2 weeks (standard 93%).

Overall treatment levels from March 2020 June 2021 have been maintained at 93 of pre pandemic levels.

View the next sections of this report:

View and download a PDF version of this report