NHS workforce pressures undermining cancer care, finds Macmillan poll

More than half of GPs and nurses fear that soaring workload means the NHS workforce is no longer able to provide adequate care to cancer patients, according to polling by charity Macmillan Cancer Support.

GP consultation: workload concerns (Photo: Simon Barber)
GP consultation: workload concerns (Photo: Simon Barber)

A total of 52% of 250 GPs and nurses polled by the cancer charity said they were not confident that cancer patients could be offered the care they needed given current pressures on the NHS.

More than a third warned that some cancer patients are going to A&E because treatment is not available in the community. Some 44% of GPs and nurses said cancer was not being picked up as early as it should be and 31% said paitents were not receiving the care they needed after cancer treatment because of pressures on the NHS workforce.

Respondents to the poll cited growing numbers of patients, more complex workloads and growing problems with gaps or vacancies as their top concerns about the healthcare workforce.

The findings come just a day after the BMA revealed that a majority of GP practices in England were prepared to take part in co-ordinated action to close patient lists in protest at soaring workload.

NHS diagnostics

GPs responding to the poll highlighted problems with access to diagnostics, and a shortage of district nursing and practice nurse staff to support primary care. One respondent said: 'There is a recurring theme of despair. The current workload pressures we are facing are unsustainable. GPs locally are retiring early and those left are at high risk of burnout.

'We are all trying our best to continue to deliver high quality care to our patients but this is becoming increasingly difficult, meaning an early cancer diagnosis is not always straightforward. I fear the pressures GPs are currently working under will make this less likely to happen going forward.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'GPs and our teams can certainly empathise with some of the concerns highlighted by our colleagues at Macmillan today. None of us are strangers to intense workload and workforce pressures facing general practice across the country – and the potential impact this has on our patients.

'But it is testament to the hard work and dedication of GPs and our teams that we do everything we can not to let these challenges compromise the care we deliver to our patients, particularly those with serious conditions, including cancer.

'GPs are doing a good job of identifying and treating our patients with cancer – 75% of patients found to have cancer are referred after only one or two GP consultations despite many early stage cancers presenting in vague ways. And in the last five years the proportion of cancers diagnosed as an emergency has dropped from 25% to 20%.

'Today’s figures should be a wake-up call that it isn’t just GPs highlighting the pressures facing our profession – but charities and patients too.'

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