Exclusive: NHS plans £10bn blitz to tackle cancer crisis

The NHS is planning a £10 billion cancer blitz amid warnings from the Chief Medical Officer that the "indirect effects" of the Covid pandemic are "as major" as the crisis itself.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has vowed to "bust the NHS backlog", saying he had been shocked to discover that around seven million people in need of help had not come forward during the pandemic.

Health officials are inviting bids for a £10 billion expansion of testing centres for cancer and heart disease, with 150 "one-stop shops" due to be opened in shops and retail parks.

The drive will see 44 of the community diagnostic hubs opened within months, along with 33 mobile scanning units hired from the independent sector this summer. 

NHS backlogs are at a record high, with more than five million people waiting and estimates of an extra seven million "hidden" people who have yet to join the lists. 

Health officials are particularly concerned about "missing" cancer cases, with the latest NHS figures showing 37,000 fewer patients receiving treatment since the start of the pandemic. 

Awareness campaigns will focus on encouraging those with symptoms that could be cancer to come forward and see their GPs. 

Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, told the Local Government Association conference on Tuesday: "Right from the beginning we were aware of the fact that Covid would have a substantial indirect effect, probably as major as the direct effects over the long term.

"There was a group of people who were either unwilling, because of worries about safety, or unable to access acute services. There is likely to be a significant backlog of people who would have had disease picked up at an earlier stage under ordinary circumstances."

Prof Whitty said it would take the NHS "quite a long time" to clear the backlog. 

Charities have warned that Britain is at risk of "replacing the Covid crisis with a cancer crisis", with 300,000 fewer urgent checks since the start of the pandemic and 37,000 fewer patients starting cancer treatment. 

NHS chiefs are inviting bids from private sector and NHS services to run a network of 150 one-stop testing centres across the country. Expressions of interest are due to be received by Wednesday for parts of the contract, worth up to £10 billion, which could span at least five years. 

On Tuesday Mr Javid said a new Health and Care Bill, which aims to make care less bureaucratic, would help to "meet demand, build a better health service and bust the backlog".

Official waiting lists are expected to swell further as growing numbers come forward, often when their case is far more urgent, with updated figures due on Thursday. 

"As Health Secretary, I can’t just be thinking about Covid alone – I have to think about all the other health problems that are out there and have a plan to deal with those," Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.  

He said Covid case numbers could go "as high as 100,000" a day as restrictions ease, but said the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths had been "severely weakened".

It came as experts warned that diabetes sufferers face a "time bomb" of serious complications after almost half missed vital check-ups during the pandemic. Diabetes UK fears that 60,000 type two diagnoses were missed or delayed last year, meaning an increased risk of heart disease, amputations and sight loss. 

Prof Stephen Powis, the national medical director for NHS England, said: "Despite the significant disruption caused by the pandemic with staff treating 405,000 seriously ill patients with Covid over the last year and launching the biggest and fastest vaccination programme in our history, cancer and mental health services are back at pre-pandemic levels and elective surgery is increasing too.

"Activity has climbed to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, well ahead of the 75 per cent threshold set out in April."

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