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NHS labs at 'tipping point' putting cancer tests at risk, charity warns

Published 23/11/2016

Pathology services in the UK are struggling to keep pace with the rising number of samples that need analysing in order to spot cancer, a charity said
Pathology services in the UK are struggling to keep pace with the rising number of samples that need analysing in order to spot cancer, a charity said

Crucial tests for early cancer diagnosis are under threat as NHS labs are at a "tipping point", a report by Cancer Research UK has warned.

Pathology services in the UK are struggling to keep pace with the rising number of samples that need analysing in order to spot the disease while it is easier to treat, the charity said.

Increasing demand on services due to an ageing population and inadequate staff numbers have created a "diagnostic bottleneck" that will get worse without urgent action, it added.

Government figures show that the NHS carried out 20.8 million diagnostic tests over the last 12 months and the Department of Health said it had invested £2.5 billion in pathology services.

Cancer Research UK said more needs to be done to train and employ people in pathology and other diagnostic areas to meet the growing demand for tests.

As well as analysis of biopsies and blood tests, there is similar rising demand for other cancer tests such as scans and endoscopies, the charity said.

Emma Greenwood, the charity's director of policy, said: "Diagnostic services, including pathology, urgently need support and investment to ensure that diagnoses aren't delayed and patients benefit from the latest treatment.

"The UK's cancer survival is lagging behind other European countries and improving early diagnosis through diagnostic services is one of the ways to address this.

"The diagnostic bottleneck will only get worse without action now and this involves addressing staff shortages in imaging, endoscopy and pathology."

The report also calls on the Royal College of Pathologists to update its guidance to increase recruitment to pathology.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Early and fast diagnosis is crucial in improving patient outcomes and experience. Getting pathology test results to patients quickly is a key part of this.

"That's why we have invested over £2.5 billion on efficient and robust pathology services across the NHS."

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