In this blog, we will look at the work we are doing alongside a coalition of over 50 health organisations, including Cancer Research, Macmillan Cancer Support, and The Health Foundation, to influence the Health and Care Bill, and why it matters for people affected by breast cancer.

The Health and Care Bill

The breast cancer workforce is facing a crisis. Key staff who support vital breast cancer services, like the NHS Screening Programme, are under critical pressure, made worse by the pandemic. 

We have an opportunity to address this issue through the Government’s Health and Care Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. The Bill as it currently stands proposes a duty be placed on the Health and Social Care Secretary to publish a report describing the system in place for assessing and meeting workforce needs.

However, we’re concerned that these plans fall well short of what is needed to ensure that the NHS has the staff needed to deliver cancer services, now and in the future.

What are we calling for?

One of the key issues facing breast cancer right now is shortages amongst staff needed to deliver vital services.

For example, we know the breast imaging and diagnostic workforce – essential for the NHS breast screening programme as well as services for women with breast symptoms – is under critical pressure, and this has only been made worse by the pandemic

To help address these issues, we’ve worked in coalition with other health organisations and Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP to propose an amendment to the Bill to strengthen workforce planning – helping to identify the numbers of staff that need to be recruited and retained - by requiring the Health Secretary to publish independent assessments of current and future workforce numbers every two years.

Why this matters for breast cancer

As with the secondary breast cancer audit, understanding the numbers involved is crucial to identifying areas of unmet need and the support that is necessary to provide it. Through the publication of staff numbers and assessments of the future numbers needed to meet the needs of breast cancer patients, a robust, long-term and full resourced plan for the cancer workforce can be developed. And this will enable decision-makers to ensure resources are in place to meet people’s needs.

We need the Government to tackle the enormity of the crisis facing the cancer workforce. This will help us to achieve our mission to help everybody with breast cancer live and live well by 2050.

What's happened so far?

The amendment was debated in the House of Commons on the 23rd November.

In the debate, many MPs spoke out in favour of the amendment, including Tonia Antionazzi, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Cancer. In her speech, she raised the issue of access to clinical nurse specialists, and said had been appalled by the story of Laura Ashurst, a Breast Cancer Now patient advocate with incurable secondary breast cancer, who had been left without specialist support after her diagnosis.

Unfortunately, despite Tonia’s impassioned contribution, the amendment was voted down by 280 votes to 219. However the amendment is likely to be tabled again in the House of Lords, which will provide another opportunity to secure the vital changes we need.

Thanks again to all our campaigners who contacted their MPs to ask them to support the amendment. We will keep you updated on next steps.

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