130,000 Patients Missing out on Critical Cancer Care Annually

Over 130,000 patients a year are being denied vital cancer care, due to struggling NHS systems.

The growing number of patients suffering from cancer is creating a deficit in treatment.

A total of 132,138 patients in England last year did not see a cancer specialist within the required 14 days, begin surgery or radiotherapy within the supposed maximum 31 after diagnosis, or 62 days after initial consultation and tests, according to figures released by Cancer Research UK.

Commenting on the issue, Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, suggested that the seriousness of the statistics should not be underestimated.

“These figures are alarming. The number of people for whom these targets are being missed is a real source of concern. Delay creates additional anxiety for people. That matters for individual patients affected in a precise way because they have a prolonged period of uncertainty. Do I have cancer or do I not? And if I do have cancer, will it be curable?”

Johnson went on to outline the consequences of such delays.

“In some cases delays may even mean the chance to give curative treatment may be lost. Delays mean that there will be some people whose cancer gets worse while they wait for the result [of a test]. I’m pretty angry about that. This all reflects a system that’s failing to meet the needs of people with cancer or suspected cancer.”

Indeed, the NHS has failed to meet any of its cancer targets since 2014.

In that time, 57,112 people have had to wait longer than that for supposedly urgent care, NHS England statistics concede.

Dr Richard Roope, the Royal College of GPs’ spokesman on cancer, is in no doubt about the problems caused by the current failure to get on top of cancer treatment.

“We now have a situation where most hospitals don’t meet their targets to start treating people within 62 days of referral with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery. That’s regrettable for patients because for an affected patient any extension of those 62 days is both psychologically challenging and damaging both for them and their loved ones. There’s always the worry that that delay might affect your outcome and that in some cases it will mean the cancer is more advanced at the time of treatment, which will then be detrimental to the outcome – it could reduce their chances of survival.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health attempted to defend the performance of the NHS and the healthcare establishment.

“Cancer survival rates have never been higher and just this week the NHS announced a new £130m investment to kickstart the upgrade of radiotherapy equipment and transform cancer treatment across England. The reality is the NHS is seeing over 90% more patients with suspected cancer within two weeks – that’s over 800,000 more people – and treating nearly 50,000 more patients following a GP referral compared to 2010.”

Perhaps the failure to meet these targets can once again be cited as evidence that targets set for the NHS are too stringent.

But it is clear that this is another area of the healthcare system struggling to cope with public demand.

 

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