Three quarters of the UK public think the NHS is understaffed and underequipped to tackle cancer, according to a poll carried out by YouGov for Cancer Research UK.

The Cancer Awareness Measure, which surveyed almost 2,500 people in February 2022, found that 75% of people didn’t think the NHS was sufficiently equipped to see, test and treat everyone that needed it.

Of the respondents, 76% who have had cancers, and 80% of people who’ve known someone affected by cancer also said they think the NHS doesn’t have the resources needed to meet the demand.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “It’s deeply troubling that those who have close encounters with cancer think NHS services are underequipped and understaffed.”

Issues of understaffing have been years in the making

NHS England aims to diagnose and start treatment for 85% of cancer patients within 62 days of an urgent referral from their GP. However, this target has been missed since 2015, and as of March 2022 it was well below target at just 67.4%, with pressure on diagnostic services being a key reason for missed targets.

More positively, record numbers of people are being referred for cancer tests.

At the end of March 2022, there were 14 times more patients waiting six weeks or more for key diagnostic tests in England compared with March 2019, despite the tireless work of NHS staff.

Professor Charles Swanton, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, said: “I would argue NHS staff are motivated by wanting to help people, but right now, there simply isn’t the time for them to develop those invaluable patient relationships. Although exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, issues of understaffing have been years in the making. For instance, according to a BMA report, the UK is short of 49,000 doctors relative to the average number of doctors per head of the population in OECD countries.”