Last year, more than 100,000 patients had to wait longer than the stated maximum of two weeks to see a cancer specialist to discover whether or not they have the disease, figures obtained by The Guardian reveal.
A total of 102,697 people in England had their “worst fears dragged out” after they didn’t get to see a specialist cancer consultant within two weeks following an urgent GP referral. In addition, more than 25,000 individuals waited longer than the official NHS target of 62 days to start their cancer treatment.
Dr Ann McMahon, the professional adviser to the Royal College of Nursing and Breast Care Nursing Forum, said: “These targets exist for a reason. If cancers are caught early, survival rates improve. Behind every single one of these figures is a family having their worst fears dragged out for even longer.”
The findings are contained in an analysis of cancer waiting times performance in 2016 undertaken by the House of Commons Library at the request of the shadow health secretary, John Ashworth.
Macmillan Cancer Support said “thousands of people are being left in an appalling state of limbo” because of the growing delays to see a specialist, have diagnostic tests and start treatment.
The Royal College of Radiologists warned that long waits could lead to some cancers becoming untreatable and patients’ chances of survival being reduced.
Increased anxiety at a difficult time
Dr Nicola Strickland, the president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: “Any delay in diagnosis or time to start therapy risks a growth in the cancer, potentially making it incurable. These delays increase the anxiety experienced by patients and their relatives at this difficult time.”
The difficulty of diagnostic services to meet demand – because NHS cancer services are crippled by a chronic shortage of radiologists and clinical oncologists – means that 230,000 patients a year are also waiting more than a month for the results of X-rays and CT and MRI scans, she said.
The analysis shows that almost one in six (25 out of 157) providers failed to hit their target of ensuring 93% of patients urgently referred by their GPs in 2016 got to see a specialist within 14 days. Furthermore, 86 out of 155 providers (55%) breached the 62-day target for patients starting their cancer treatment.
Worcestershire Royal Acute Hospitals NHS trust recorded both the worst monthly performance – seeing just 39.4% of patients – and also the worst overall performance throughout the year, with only 74% of patients seen on time.
It provided 13,100 people with an appointment to see a cancer specialist within 14 days, but failed to do so with 4,605 other patients.
Despite the findings, a spokesman for the Department of Health said cancer rates are actually now at a record high. In fact, he said that the NHS treated over 110,000 patients (82%) within the target of 62 days last year and that the service had risen to the challenge of an increase in urgent referrals for suspected cancer of over 90% compared to 2009/10.
“To build on this progress we have announced up to £300m a year to meet our new target for patients to be given a definitive diagnosis, or the all-clear, within 28 days of a GP referral,” he said.
It has been proven that early intervention/treatment results in higher survival rates. Long waits can lead to some cancers becoming untreatable which results in the chances of survival being reduced and increasing the anxiety for the patient and their families. This is certainly a reason for people to be seriously considering taking out Private Healthcare while they are fit and well.
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