12,000 cancer patients suffer ‘unacceptable’ care hold-ups as NHS struggles to clear Covid backlogs, report finds
- At least 12,000 cancer patients are facing waits to start treatment so far this year
- Only 72.8 per cent of patients started treatment in two months of urgent referral
- It means 11,568 patients have missed out treatment, damaging survival chances
Shocking delays in cancer care have left 12,000 patients facing ‘unacceptable’ waits to start treatment so far this year.
Analysis by Cancer Research UK has laid bare the extent of the worsening crisis facing patients as the NHS struggles to tackle the Covid backlog.
In the first six months of this year, just 72.8 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within the target of two months of an urgent cancer referral.
This means 11,568 patients have missed out on prompt diagnosis or treatment, damaging their survival chances.
The NHS in England says 85 per cent of patients should be seen, diagnosed and start treatment within two months of an urgent referral for cancer from their GP.
But the health service has missed this target for six years running and its performance is continuing to deteriorate.
Shocking delays in cancer care have left 12,000 patients facing ‘unacceptable’ waits to start treatment so far this year (stock image)
The proportion of cancer patients starting treatment within two months has decreased for six years in a row.
In total over the past six years, 55,000 cancer patients should have been diagnosed quicker or started their treatment sooner.
In 2016, 82 per cent of patients were seen within this target – meaning around 4,000 missed out on quick care. But by last year this had fallen to just 75 per cent – with 14,600 facing delays.
Performance has been even worse this year as the Covid backlog continues to take its toll on services. Just 72.8 per cent of patients met the target in the six months up to July.
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment is crucial to survival chances. Every four-week delay in cancer treatment increases the risk of death by 10 per cent.
Cancer Research warned that pressure on the NHS is continuing to intensify as a result of a shortage of staff, and that without urgent funding survival rates are likely to fall.
One in ten diagnostic posts in the NHS are currently empty.
Cancer Research warned that pressure on the NHS is continuing to intensify as a result of a shortage of staff, and that without urgent funding survival rates are likely to fall (pictured, a sign for the Galleri Trial – a test where thousands will give blood to test for more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear)
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: ‘These figures are a stark reminder that cancer services have been struggling for years, with thousands of cancer patients having to wait longer than two months to get diagnosed and start treatment.
‘While NHS staff have been doing their utmost, the impact of Covid-19 and years of workforce shortages and insufficient infrastructure have meant that cancer targets continue to be missed. Cancer won’t wait and the time for the Government to fix these chronic issues is now.’
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, added: ‘Being referred urgently because you might have cancer, receiving a diagnosis and beginning treatment are hugely anxious times for patients, which are further compounded when there are delays.
‘For people with cancer, every day counts; that is why we have cancer targets. I’ve been working in the NHS for a long time and it’s hard to watch the continuous deterioration, and the anxiety and worsening outcomes this can cause patients.’
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