Cancer patients face treatment delays

38% of NHS trusts are meeting the target of starting cancer treatment within 62 days of a GP referral

Doctor standing between his office’s  doors looking across crowded waiting room for a patient.

Growing numbers of cancer patients face lengthy delays for treatment, with many having to wait more than two months after being referred.

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Only 38% of NHS trusts are meeting the target of starting cancer treatment within 62 days of a GP referral, according to a government Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report.

The report, published earlier this month, said that performance continues to decline, with 78.6% of patients treated within 62 days of an urgent referral between July and September 2018, down from 83.8% between September and December 2014. Less than half of NHS trusts and foundation trusts meet the 18-week waiting times standard for elective treatment.

Meg Hillier, MP and chair of the Committee said: “It is unacceptable that the proportion of patients being treated within NHS waiting times standards is continuing to spiral downwards; NHS England and the Department of Health & Social Care must regain control.

“The impact on individuals of protracted waiting times cannot be ignored. As one charity told us, the wait for cancer testing is “agonising… it is essential that a definitive answer is given as soon as possible, to either provide peace of mind or to allow treatment to begin at the earliest stage.””

Research conducted by the BBC found that Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was found to be the worst performer in 2018-19, with fewer than 61% of patients seen with in the target time frame.

More new cases of cancer every year

Analysis by the Cancer Intelligence team at the charity Cancer Research found that every day more than 980 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer, and more than 440 people die from the disease.

Smoking is still the biggest cause of cancer, resulting in 55,000 cancer cases each year in the UK, despite the number of people smoking being at its lowest recorded point.  Being overweight is another major risk factor, causing around 23,000 cases of cancer every year in the UK.

The number of cancer cases overall is projected to rise by more than 40% to around 514,000 new cases per year by 2035, with a greater increase in men than women. This will place even greater pressure on an already stretched NHS system.

Many people choose to take out private medical insurance either through their employer or independently so if they do fall ill, that they don’t have to wait for treatment or diagnosis. However, it’s vital to check which conditions are covered and which are not before buying, and whether there are limits to the amount or the cost of treatments you have.

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Patients diagnosed at an early stage are more likely to survive cancer as they have access to different treatment options than those diagnosed later. Those who receive a stage 4 cancer diagnosis are around three times as likely to have chemotherapy than those diagnosed at stage one, according to Cancer Research, with early stage cancers more likely to be treated with surgery.