NHS fails 'thousands' cancer patients

Radiotherapy Image copyright SPL

The NHS in England is failing "thousands" of cancer patients by treating them too slowly, a charity warns.

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

But official figures show the target was missed for an entire year, with just 83.4% seen on time in 2014-15.

Cancer Research UK said the situation was getting worse and called for urgent action.

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

But more than 21,000 people were not seen within the 62-day target in the last financial year.

Sara Hiom, the director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is the worst result since records began, in 2009.

"Thousands of cancer patients are being failed.

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

"These breaches have become a trend, and they are worsening.

"This is why urgent action must be taken to support the NHS to ensure it has the resources it needs to meet this challenge."

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

  • Breast cancer - 95.9%
  • Lung cancer - 75.6%
  • Lower gastrointestinal cancer - 73.3%
  • Urological cancers - 78%
  • Skin cancers - 95.4%

Sean Duffy, NHS England's national clinical director for Cancer, said: "The NHS is helping more people survive cancer than ever before.

"Swift diagnosis is key, and our latest annual figures show that over 1.5 million people were urgently referred to a specialist by their GP - that's over 70% more than five years ago.

"But it's crucial we focus on maintaining waiting time standards for treatment as demand increases, and we are working hard to pinpoint any issues on the ground."

Andy Burnham, Labour's Shadow health secretary, said: "[Prime Minister] David Cameron promised to improve cancer care, but under his government the cancer treatment target has been missed again and again and again.

"He is trying to tell people the NHS is safe in his hands, but the reality is the health service is in deep trouble and going backwards fast."

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