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Swift and smart work by nurses has kept cancer services on track, says NHS director

Dame Cally Palmer was speaking about rebuilding cancer services post pandemic

Dame Cally Palmer was speaking at Cancer Nursing Practice’s webinar on rebuilding cancer services post pandemic

Nurses have had to work ‘swiftly and smartly’ to tackle the backlog in urgent cancer referrals and keep services on track, according to NHS England and Improvement’s national cancer director.

Dame Cally Palmer, also chief executive at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, warned that the government and healthcare organisations would need to work together to ‘keep our foot on the gas in cancer so that it doesn’t go backwards’ as a result of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Big push to try and encourage people to come forward for cancer treatment

Speaking at Cancer Nursing Practice’s webinar on rebuilding cancer

Dame Cally Palmer was speaking at Cancer Nursing Practice’s webinar on rebuilding cancer services post pandemic

Swift and smart work by nurses has kept cancer services on track
Picture: iStock

Nurses have had to work ‘swiftly and smartly’ to tackle the backlog in urgent cancer referrals and keep services on track, according to NHS England and Improvement’s national cancer director.

Dame Cally Palmer, also chief executive at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, warned that the government and healthcare organisations would need to work together to ‘keep our foot on the gas in cancer so that it doesn’t go backwards’ as a result of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Big push to try and encourage people to come forward for cancer treatment

Speaking at Cancer Nursing Practice’s webinar on rebuilding cancer services post pandemic last month, she said there had been a big drop-off in urgent referrals as people were not coming forward for diagnosis: ‘People have been either worried about bothering the NHS or worried about coming into NHS facilities and catching coronavirus.’

Her comments came as National Audit Office (NAO) published figures estimating that there could be up to 740,000 ‘missing’ urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer during the pandemic.

In addition, the NAO estimates that between 35,000 and 60,000 people missed their first cancer treatment between March 2020 and September 2021.

Dame Cally said: ‘We’ve been working with the whole cancer community and cancer professionals to try and encourage people to come forward.’

NHS campaign has contributed to record number of cancer referrals

She said that from April 2021 to September 2021 referrals have been 108% higher than normal levels.

Dame Cally said the NHS ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign, encouraging people to contact their GP if they have symptoms, has contributed to the record number of referrals.

The campaign began by targeting people with general cancer symptoms but has broadened its strategy to target specific tumour sites where they suspected people weren’t coming forward – abdominal, lung and urological.

The NHS is currently trialling a nurse-led cancer hotline to enable the public to speak to a cancer professional and navigate the system: ‘If it works well, it will be rolled out,’ she said.

NHS England and Improvement’s national cancer director Dane Cally Palmer
Dame Cally Palmer

Dame Cally thanked nurses for their hard work and said there is good news in that first cancer treatment figures have been maintained at pre-pandemic levels and innovations such as surgical hubs and oral medicines have been accelerated and rolled out quickly.

However, she added: ‘The bad news is we still have a big job to do to get treatment on track.

‘Before the focus was on COVID-19 and cancer as our emergency priorities but now we have this huge elective recovery programme to cope with as well.’


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