Waiting times for NHS cancer treatment are at worst ever level.

Record 20,000 patients a month are suffering delays in seeing a consultant or starting therapies.


( Graphs available within the article ... they do not transpose across. )

https://www.theguardian.com/society/201 ... -treatment


Record numbers of patients are not getting vital cancer care on time because NHS England performance against waiting time targets has fallen to its lowest ever level, according to official figures.

Hospitals are increasingly having to force patients to wait for care because they cannot keep up with the growing numbers being referred by GPs who fear they have the disease.

Over 18,000 suspected cancer patients a month in England are now not getting to see a specialist or starting their treatment within prescribed timescales, NHS England’s latest performance data has revealed.

In November, 14,634 people did not see a specialist cancer consultant within 14 days, the supposed maximum length of time the NHS constitution says that anyone referred by their GP should have to wait.

Another 2,884 people could not start their treatment inside 62 days, and a further 894 did not begin their treatment within 31 days, despite family doctors classifying both groups as urgent cases.

Experts warned that the growing delays lead to mental anguish for patients, could have “a serious impact” on people’s health and raised doubts about the NHS’s plans to improve Britain’s internationally poor record of diagnosing cancer early.

“When they suffer delays like these, patients are bound to ask themselves whether the wait has had an impact if they’re diagnosed with cancer. It’s difficult for nurses to reassure patients in this situation, which compounds the anxiety and distress patients already feel,” said Patricia Marquis, a regional director at the Royal College of Nursing in England.

“Tens of thousands of patients and their families are enduring agonising waits, all too aware that a small delay could have a serious impact,” she said.

More people were unable to see a specialist within 14 days during April to November 2018 than in the whole of the previous financial year. While 113,935 patients had to wait longer than 14 days in 2017-18, even more – 124,133 – missed out that target between April to November 2018. That is the highest number since the target was introduced in October 2009.

NHS performance against some of the cancer waiting times targets has nosedived over the past year at the same time as concerns have grown about shortages of cancer doctors and specialist cancer nurses. The number of those not seeing a specialist within 14 days has risen by 60% since last year.

The NHS trust in Oxford ran so short of cancer nurses last year that it considered rationing the amount of chemotherapy patients it should receive, while one in London was forced to merge two chemotherapy units for the same reason.

While hospitals should ensure that 93% of patients see a specialist within two weeks, just 91.7% were able to do so in the eight months between April and November 2018 – again, their worst performance on record. During that same period 6,256 people could not start their treatment within 31 days of doctors making a “decision to treat”. That is on course to be many more than the 7,204 who were not treated on time in all 12 months of the year before.

Similarly, 22,565 people have missed out on urgent treatment within 62 days of referral already in 2018-19 which, again, is set to exceed the 26,217 who missed during last year.

“These truly terrible statistics represent the most shameful indictment of nearly nine years of Tory austerity, cuts and staffing failures in the NHS,” said Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary.

In November hospitals in England missed five of the eight cancer targets – including the 14-day and 62-day requirements – for the fourth month in a row. They have breached the 62-day treatment target every month since December 2015 and only met it three times in the 58 months since they first missed it in January 2014. The 14-day target has been missed for the past eight months.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s executive director of policy and impact, Fran Woodard, said: “Behind these figures are people waiting anxiously for a diagnosis and treatment, during a period when lives are already being turned upside down, despite the best efforts of NHS staff facing greater demand for their services and increased pressures.”

NHS leaders, whose long-term plan for the service’s future this week outlined ambitious improvements to cancer diagnosis and outcomes, must draw up a fully costed plan to give cancer services the workforce they need, added Woodard.
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The King’s Fund also highlighted that growing numbers of patients are having to wait more than six weeks – the supposed limit – to have a CT, MRI scan or X-ray to help doctors diagnose if they have cancer.

Deborah Ward, a senior analyst at the thinktank, said: “Although the NHS is treating thousands more people, it can’t keep up with rapidly increasing demand.

“The long-term plan set out ambitious targets to improve cancer care and these new figures highlight the scale of the challenge. But without a credible workforce plan it’s hard to see how these goals will be met.