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06 Sep 2018

Unexpected surge in men getting checked after Fry announcement highlights need for national screening programme

At the NHS England Health and Care Expo in Manchester yesterday, NHS England Deputy Chief Executive Matthew Swindells reportedly stated that Stephen Fry’s prostate cancer diagnosis had led to a surge in referrals to NHS services which contributed to missed waiting time targets.

Swindells revealed that the percentage of patients being treated within the 62-day wait target has dropped significantly in the last couple of months but that the reasons for this are complex. He suggested that this was possibly due to an extraordinary spike in demand for diagnostic services and treatment for a number of cancers, particularly urological cancers such as prostate, which may have been driven by the media coverage of Stephen Fry’s announcement of his prostate cancer diagnosis.

There have been increases in referrals to a number of cancer specialities, particularly in urology, which has seen an unprecedented 15 per cent jump this year. As supply has struggled to keep up with demand, this has had a knock-on effect on the waiting targets.

The 62-day target refers to the aim that 85 per cent of patients with suspected cancer who are urgently referred to a specialist by their GP should start definitive treatment within 62 days. NHS England figures from April to June, published last month, show 80.8 per cent of patients with suspected cancer started treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred by a GP.

Author, presenter and actor Stephen Fry publicly announced in February that he had been diagnosed and treated for aggressive prostate cancer to his 13 million followers on twitter. This gained widespread coverage in mainstream and social media. It followed our announcement earlier that month that prostate cancer has now become the third biggest cancer killer in the UK.

Heather Blake, Director of Support and Influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, responded to the story: “Since the beginning of 2018 we have seen an unprecedented amount of public interest in prostate cancer, following the announcement that it is now the third biggest cancer killer in the UK, and high profile individuals such as Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull sharing their experience of the disease. It is likely that this increased awareness will have had an impact on the number of men at risk of the disease going to their doctor to discuss prostate cancer and subsequently sent for further tests.

“It is a good thing if awareness of this killer disease is increasing, and more men are taking control by discussing it with their GP. However, this reinforces the need to find diagnostic tools which are reliable enough to be used as part of a national screening programme for prostate cancer, something we are committed to doing through our research programme. This would not only provide more certainty around diagnosis for men and save more lives, it would also make it easier for NHS providers to plan resource around it.”

Thanks to our supporters, we have been able to invest millions into ground-breaking research to improve diagnosis, leading to breakthroughs such as the use of mpMRI scans to reduce unnecessary biopsies.

We are committed to leading the creation of a screening programme for prostate cancer – a key part of our strategy to halve the expected number of deaths from prostate cancer by 2026. Through our research, we are working towards finding the right tests to make this a reality for men.

Anyone with any concerns can speak to Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses on 0800 084 8383 or you can email and live chat them too.