A Suffolk man who survived bowel cancer says a quick diagnosis is vital in fighting the disease – as new figures reveal almost half of cancer patients in the east of England are diagnosed at a late stage.
According to data from Cancer Research UK, 45.3% of people in the area diagnosed with cancer get their prognosis in stage 3 or 4, lowering their chances of survival.
The charity say there are many things that can delay diagnosis, but that its main area of concern is staffing within the NHS.
It says the health service has a ‘desperate shortage’ of medical staff trained to test and diagnose cancer, and are petitioning the government to invest more in recruiting staff.
Gareth Grayston, from Ipswich, said he received a late cancer diagnosis after doctors mistook his symptoms for stress and a lack of vitamins and backs the charity’s call more staff.
He said: “I can understand doctors don’t have a lot of time and the stresses they are under.
“There needs to be more investment in staff – it’s a massive thing.
“Everyone knows about cancer and there is so much fundraising and research. It’s a shame to hear there are not enough people to diagnose it quickly.
“From my point of view, I knew within myself I wasn’t OK.
“That’s one thing I would say, if you don’t feel right in yourself, keep going back.”
The charity say diagnostic staff are under huge pressure because of vacant posts across the country, with one in ten posts remaining empty in England.
Patrick Keely, Cancer Research UK’s spokesman for the east of England, said: “NHS staff are working tirelessly to offer the best care possible, and the NHS is implementing important new initiatives to address late diagnosis and improve staff efficiency. But there just aren’t enough of the right staff available on the ground now, and there are no plans to significantly increase the numbers needed to transform the health service.”
The charity’s head of policy Emma Greenwood added: “It’s unacceptable that so many people are diagnosed late. ”Although survival has improved, it’s not happening fast enough. ”More referrals to hospital means we urgently need more staff.”
In a joint statement from East Suffolk and North East Essex NHS Foundation Trust, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, a spokesman said more people than ever before were beating cancer in Suffolk.
He said: “This is being achieved by making sure cancers are diagnosed promptly, services are compliant with national guidance and that care is delivered in the right place at the right time.
“West Suffolk has one of the best cancer survival rates in the country and east Suffolk continues to see improvement in those rates of survival. Organisations across the system – including GPs, hospitals and Public Health Suffolk – work together, despite workforce pressures, and all share the same commitment to ensuring as many people as possible survive cancer.
“A positive outcome is best achieved for the patient if they get the cancer diagnosis early on and we continue to work hard to raise awareness of cancer symptoms.
“People should always seek advice from their GP if they have any concerns.”
For more information and to sign the Cancer Research UK petition, see here