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‘1,300 cancer patients’ have waited more than three months to start treatment

(Peter Byrne/PA)
(Peter Byrne/PA)

More than 1,000 cancer patients in England have waited over three months to start treatment, figures suggest.

On July 10, 1,366 people were still waiting for treatment to start 104 days after they were referred with an urgent suspected cancer and had since had their diagnosis confirmed, according to NHS data seen by the Health service Journal (HSJ).

The Catch Up With Cancer campaign group raised concerns about survival prospects for patients facing treatment delays.

The weekly operational figures are not usually published.

The latest published data on NHS cancer waiting times in England show that in May 242,691 people were referred for urgent cancer checks – the third highest month on record.

Some 71% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer were diagnosed or had cancer ruled out within 28 days, the same as the previous month.

The NHS’s elective recovery plan sets a goal of March 2024 for 75% of patients who have been urgently referred by their GP for suspected cancer to be diagnosed or have cancer ruled out within 28 days.

Suspected cancer referrals are significantly higher than in early 2020, partly because thousands of people did not come forward with symptoms during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The NHS is expecting more people to come forward.

More than 670,000 people have started cancer treatment since March 2020, but this is 30,000 fewer than the health service would expect.

An NHS spokesperson said: “Thanks to our national campaigns and early diagnosis initiatives, record numbers of people have been coming forward for cancer checks, with the latest figures showing the highest referral rates and number of people starting cancer treatment since the first wave of the pandemic.

“Our priority remains identifying people with symptoms and increasing capacity so that they are seen as quickly as possible, and staff continue to roll out initiatives from straight to test services, to cancer symptom hotlines and lung scanning trucks, which have already caught hundreds of cancers earlier.”

Oncologist Professor Pat Price, co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, said: “This devastating leak is yet another example of the national cancer treatment crisis that is hitting the NHS.

“We know every four weeks of delay can lead to a 10% reduction in survival, so to have so many patients waiting over 104 days is an absolute disaster.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “The NHS has been working incredibly hard to get people to come forward with potential cancer symptoms.

“But years of underinvestment has led to the worst staffing crisis in NHS history, leaving far too many patients facing unacceptably long waits for tests and treatment.

“Whoever becomes the next prime minister needs to face up to the challenges facing cancer services and make cancer a priority.”