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Cancer treatment delays ‘have become routine and put patients at risk’

Cancer treatment delays ‘have become routine and put patients at risk’

Delays in starting vital cancer treatment have now become ‘routine’ with hundreds of thousands of patients waiting longer than they should over the past decade.

A report from Cancer Research UK found that 382,000 cancer patients in England were not treated on time since 2015.

Only 66.6% of people in England received their diagnosis and started their first treatment within two months of an urgent referral in April 2024 with the 85% target having not been met since December 2015, the charity warned.

In a second report published at the same time, the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has said almost half of all specialist cancer centres experience delays in care most weeks.

Of a survey of managers at cancer centres, 47% said that patients needing chemotherapy and other drugs were facing delays ‘most weeks or every week’, up from reports of delays at 28% of sites the previous year.

Severe workforce shortages were causing backlogs – a problem that was only going to get worse as demand rises, the RCR warned.

In radiotherapy, weekly treatment delays had nearly doubled from 22% in 2022 to 43% in 2023.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said that behind the figures were friends, family members and loved ones ‘facing unbearably long waits for their treatment to begin, causing stress and anxiety’.

She added that any incoming UK government must make tackling cancer waits a top priority and pledge to meet all targets by the end of the next parliament.

‘To do this, all political parties should commit to a long-term, fully funded strategy to back cancer research across the UK and improve and reform cancer services in England, in order to provide our health service with much needed equipment and staff.

‘Without this, cancer patients will not receive the level of care that they deserve.’

Dr Katherine Halliday, president of the RCR said their report had revealed a ‘stark reality’ that the workforce crisis in cancer services was ‘jeopardising patients’ health’.

‘Doctors are working under extreme stress and are deeply concerned for their patients.

‘We urge the new Government to heed the advice of doctors and implement a forward-thinking strategy to recruit, train, and retain staff. Only this approach can help reset the system, safeguard the NHS, and guarantee patients receive the quality care they deserve.’

NHS England said it was seeing and treating record numbers of people for cancer, with 30% more people treated last year than in 2015/16. It also noted it had met the target for diagnosing cancer or ruling it out within 28 days.

This story was originally published on our sister site Pulse.

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