13 June 2024

‘Dangerous delays’ in cancer care ‘have been normalised’, experts warn

13 June 2024

Dangerous delays in cancer care “have been normalised”, according to experts, who called for cancer waiting times to be a “national priority” for the next government.

It comes after new figures revealed a rise in the proportion of patients facing longer waits to have cancer ruled out or diagnosed, or start treatment for the disease.

According to NHS England data, some 73.5% of patients in England urgently referred for suspected cancer in April were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days.

This is down from 77.3% the previous month and is, therefore, below the target of 75%.

GPs made 260,108 urgent cancer referrals in April, up from 254,594 in March and also up year-on-year from 218,324 in April 2023.

The proportion of patients waiting no longer than 62 days in April from an urgent suspected cancer referral or consultant upgrade to their first definitive treatment for cancer was 66.6%, down from 68.7% in March and below the target of 85%.

I appeal to all our leaders to commit to a dedicated cancer plan and a boost to cancer treatment

Oncologist Professor Pat Price, co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, said the data “is a timely reminder that the cancer crisis continues and dangerous delays have been normalised”.

“A third of cancer patients still faced unacceptable delays and, astonishingly, 2,571 patients spent at least three months on cancer treatment waiting lists in April 2024,”she added.

“Cancer waiting times must be a national priority for the next government.

“I appeal to all our leaders to commit to a dedicated cancer plan and a boost to cancer treatment.

“And that must include a proper boost to radiotherapy cancer treatments, technology and the cancer workforce.”

Mairaid McMahon, policy manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The story consistently being told by waiting times data is that too many people are waiting too long to find out whether or not they have cancer, or for their cancer treatment to begin.

“Despite the tireless efforts of NHS staff, people with cancer are being failed by a healthcare system that is not being given the resources it needs to support them.

“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetimes, and we know demand on the system is rising, but that’s why the next government must rewrite the story of cancer care.

“That means prioritising the development of a long-term strategy for the cancer care system in England so that diagnosis is made early, treatment starts quickly, and support is on hand to respond to the fact that cancer can affect every part of someone’s life – from healthcare and finances to work, housing and relationships.

“The harsh reality is that half of the UK population will be diagnosed with cancer over the course of their lifetime – and it is they who will judge the government they elect on what it did to ensure people with cancer can get the care they need, when they need it the most.”

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