Thousands of cancer patients face NHS treatment delays

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By  Pamela Duncan and Denis Campbell

Nearly 10% of patients forced to wait more than two weeks for first appointment with specialist

Record numbers of suspected cancer patients are facing delays before starting their treatment amid growing pressure on increasingly overstretched NHS services for the disease.

In the 12 months to June, 130,553 people in England had to wait more than two weeks for their first appointment with a cancer specialist after being urgently referred by a GP.

That was a big increase on the 104,930 who had to wait longer than 14 days in the same period in 2016-17. In June this year alone, 16,235 people did not meet their specialist for the first time within the 14 days guaranteed by the NHS constitution.

Just 91.1% of all the 182,348 people referred were seen within two weeks in June, a breach of the duty on the NHS to ensure that 93% do so. Almost two-thirds of hospitals proved unable to provide first appointments within 14 days, while a third missed it by at least 10 percentage points or more.

Hospitals also missed several other cancer treatment waiting time targets, in some cases by the widest margin yet seen, the latest NHS-wide performance figures published by NHS England show. Macmillan Cancer Support warned that the service’s performance on how long people wait for cancer care is “slipping”.

Moira Fraser, the charity’s director of policy, said: “It mustn’t be forgotten that at the heart of these figures are thousands of cancer patients and their families having their lives put on hold for months on end as a result. This is unacceptable.”

NHS England said hospitals’ increasing inability to deliver cancer care on time was a consequence of its ongoing drive to improve the early detection of cancer by encouraging family doctors to refer many more suspected cases for investigation than previously.

“Catching cancer earlier is vital, which is why the NHS is deliberately putting itself under pressure by significantly increasing the number of people referred for checks,” NHS England said.

“As a result the NHS is now seeing nearly two million urgent GP referrals a year, with record highs in June in the number of people receiving their first treatment following an urgent referral.”


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