NHS disaster as patients’ cancer worsens due to ‘entirely avoidable delays’

Tens of thousands of cancer patients have seen the disease worsen because of “unacceptable and entirely avoidable” delays, analysis has revealed.

Macmillan Cancer Support says 180,000 more waited too long for tests and treatment over the past decade as targets were missed repeatedly.

Gemma Peters, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The figures we are talking about only illustrate what Macmillan, NHS staff, people with cancer and many other organisations have been sounding the alarm on since long before the pandemic.

“Cancer care is in crisis after years of Governments failing to act. Every single person who has faced a worse outcome from their diagnosis because of delays will know the devastating impact waiting has had on their lives.”

She said this could include “the burden of anxiety that their cancer is growing, and, for many, the devastating news their cancer is now incurable.” She stressed: “This is categorically unacceptable and entirely avoidable.” The damning indictment comes three years after the Daily Express exposed a diagnosis and treatment crisis magnified by the pandemic.

In January more than 7,000 people waited over two months to start treatment following an urgent referral by a GP – the highest recorded figure.

Meanwhile, 2022 was the worst year for cancer patient waiting times – the first in which all national targets in England were missed at least once.

Macmillan and 61 other charities combined as One Cancer Voice to deliver an 80,000-name petition to No10 in March demanding the disease was made a priority after a 10-year dedicated “war on cancer” was axed.

Cancer is likely to strike 445,000 people in Britain this year and in each of the next five if trends continue, with the total increasing by almost one-tenth on current tolls.

Researchers based their estimates on 2023 to 2028 – the exact timeframe of the Government’s yet-to-be-published Major Conditions Strategy.

Macmillan said NHS cancer staff are being stretched to breaking point.

Today the charity launches a What Are We Waiting For? campaign, for action by Governments across the UK.

The extra 180,000 patients who have waited too long – equal in size to the combined populations of Ipswich and Dundee – are calculated from targets that have been missed since 2014.

Ms Peters said: “Immediate action will start to tackle the issues people are facing right now. That is why Macmillan is launching our new campaign, calling on all four UK Governments to commit to providing the NHS with the funding and support.” Macmillan estimates one in five patients diagnosed in the past decade thought delays worsened their cancer.

Naman Julka-Anderson, a radiographer, said that some patients had arrived for chemotherapy care “only to be told that because of staff shortages, we can’t deliver their treatment. It’s inhumane.”

Ex-World Health Organisation cancer chief and Daily Express columnist Karol Sikora said: “We turned the country on its head to tackle Covid – in terms of life years lost, the cancer crisis will dwarf the virus’s impact.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “The NHS has seen and treated record numbers of cancer patients over the last two years, with cancer being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often.”

  • More than 651,000 routine operations and appointments have been rescheduled due to industrial action across England since December, figures show.

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