NHS misses cancer treatment targets

Radiotherapy Image copyright SPL

The NHS in England has repeatedly missed a key target for rapidly treating cancer patients, official figures show.

At least 85% of them should start treatment within 62 days of a GP referral for suspected cancer.

Between July and September, just 83.5% were treated within time - the third quarter in a row the target was missed.

Cancer charities said thousands of patients were being failed, and Labour said the figures were a "scandal".

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital for improving the odds of recovering from cancer.

The NHS has a series of targets to ensure this happens.

Some are being met, including the "two-week wait target" for getting 93% of patients to see a specialist within a fortnight of a GP referral.

But of the 33,404 people who started cancer treatment between July and September, more than 5,500 were not treated within the 62 day target.

For the past three quarters respectively, just 83.5%, 84.1% and 84.2% of patients have been treated on time.

Breakdowns for individual cancers in the previous quarter show the proportion of patients treated on time:

  • breast cancer - 95.1%
  • lung cancer - 73.6%
  • lower gastrointestinal cancer - 73.3%
  • urological cancers - 78.1%
  • skin cancers - 95.8%

Sarah Woolnough, from Cancer Research UK, said: "This isn't just about missed targets - consecutive breaches mean thousands of patients are being failed.

"Today's figures show that more than a third of all NHS trusts in England have breached the '62-day target'.

"These targets exist to ensure swift diagnosis of cancer and access to treatment, which is vital if we're serious about having the best survival rates in the world.

"Patients want confidence that suspected cancer is taken seriously and prioritised by the NHS.

"These breaches have become a trend and they are worsening, which is why urgent action must be taken to support the NHS."


Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "[Prime Minister] David Cameron has cut the cancer budget by £800m in real terms, while his top-down NHS reorganisation disrupted cancer services.

"As a result, he is now failing to meet his own cancer target. He has left families facing anxious waits for cancer tests and treatment and his complacency is becoming dangerous.

"When it comes to cancer, speed is everything. Labour is committed to cancer tests and results within one week to help end this scandal."

Health Minister Earl Howe said: "We inherited the worst cancer survival rates in Western Europe, but as the ONS [Office for National Statistics] says, outcomes for many types of cancer are now improving, and in fact survival rates have never been higher.

"We're referring 51% more patients for cancer treatment than 2010, and have invested £0.75bn in better early diagnosis and treatment to make progress towards our ambition to be the best country for cancer care in Europe."

Dr Giles Maskell, the president of the Royal College of Radiologists, told the BBC: "One of the most important factors in causing these targets to be missed is the delays in imaging reporting.

"Patients are waiting too long for imaging test results and the latest statistics released by NHS England may illustrate this impact.

"The main obstacle to achieving faster imaging tests and results is the severe shortage of radiologists in the UK compared with other western European countries, in the long term, this chronic shortfall can only be addressed by training and recruiting more radiologists."

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