In the last 6 years, almost 55,000 cancer patients should have been diagnosed quicker or started their treatment sooner, according to new calculations from Cancer Research UK released today.
This is because, in England, the NHS has continued to miss its target to treat 85% of cancer patients within 2 months of their urgent suspected cancer referral. A target that exists to ensure that patients are seen, diagnosed and treated quickly.
And this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as the figures only capture cancer patients who had an urgent suspected cancer referral. Those diagnosed through a different route – following a routine referral for example – are likely to have waited even longer.
Why is the target consistently being missed?
Though several factors can influence how quickly someone is diagnosed or able to start treatment, the charity’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, explains that the impact of COVID-19 and years of workforce shortages and insufficient infrastructure have meant that cancer targets continue to be missed.
The target of 85% hasn’t been met since 2015, and worryingly, figures have been deteriorating year-on-year since 2017. Around 4,000 additional patients needed to be diagnosed and start treatment to hit the target in 2016. And the numbers are mounting – in July of this year, this figure was already around 11,600.
Mitchell urges the Chancellor to use the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to provide multi-year investment for the NHS to train more staff and buy more diagnostic equipment, in order to meet waiting time targets, and put the UK on the path towards world-leading cancer survival.
Cancer won’t wait and the time for the Government to fix these chronic issues is now.
– Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive
Despite working as hard as they can, NHS staff and services are constantly on the back foot, particularly as the number of people with cancer continues to grow.
‘For people with cancer every day counts’
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Being referred urgently because you might have cancer, receiving a diagnosis and beginning treatment for the disease are hugely anxious times for patients, which are further compounded when there are delays. For people with cancer, every day counts; that is why we have cancer targets.”
He adds that having worked for the NHS for a number of years, it has been hard to watch the continuous deterioration, as well as the anxiety and worsening outcomes this can cause patients.
Cancer survival in England has lagged behind comparable countries for years, and there is a real possibility that it could go backwards for the first time. But this is not inevitable.
Echoing Mitchell’s call to the Chancellor, he said: “The Government has to commit to long term investment in workforce and kit so that we can turn things around and give patients both the care and outcomes they deserve.”
Is the new health and social care levy not sufficient?
The NHS funding announced earlier this month is an important part of helping patients get tests and treatment sooner, but it’s only one piece of the jigsaw.
To improve cancer survival, and meet growing demand for cancer care, the charity says sustained investment in staff and equipment is urgently required.
Join Cancer Research UK and others in calling for more investment in the NHS workforce.
Monica Johnson October 23, 2021
I’ll keep supporting and challenging, I don’t want my darling partner Kenny’s death last year , to Lung Cancer , to have been in vain
David Collingwood October 23, 2021
Thank you for your endless research and campaigns
ian stewart October 20, 2021
keep upthe good work, Thank you
Rebecca Alexander October 12, 2021
It’s all very worrying.
Cancer should not be put on the back burner.
Anne Horne October 9, 2021
Totally agree with you. I have tried hard with the support of friends to find raise money for CR by making 600 masks, craft items and running 215 miles (only over a month as I am 65). Sadly, Tories do NOT put the necessary money into public services. It is despicable.
Caroline Forsyth October 8, 2021
I think it is disgusting the way the goverment are treating cancer patients. I am waiting now 8 weeks for mamogram results which they said could take up to 12 weeks or more because of the back load. I had breast C A 3 years ago having had to get a mistectomy and the waiting for ” the letter ” is not good enough
Carol-Anne Winch October 8, 2021
9 years ago I had a painful shoulder and it was injected twice and then I was sent for physiotherapy. It was agony and was very limited what I could wear as too painful to get dressed.After 7 months it was xrayed and my life changed; I had a tumour that had done a lot of damage to my shoulder. I live in Somerset and was tested for myeloma; hadn’t even heard of it. All tests were negative. My shoulder was so bad I was sent to Birmingham tumour clinic. The consultant auctioned more sensitive tests and I had a plasmacytoma and multiple myeloma. I didn’t feel very lucky at the time but being referred to Kings I underwent a stem cell transplant April 2013. I have been in remission ever since.
Carol-Anne Winch October 8, 2021
9 years ago I had a painful shoulder and it was injected twice and then I was sent for physiotherapy. It was agony and was very limited what I could wear as too painful to get dressed.After 7 months it was xrayed and my life changed; I had a tumour that had done a lot of damage to my shoulder. I live in Somerset and was tested for myeloma; hadn’t even heard of it. All tests were negative. My shoulder was so bad I was sent to Birmingham tumour clinic. The consultant auctioned more sensitive tests and I had a plasmacytoma and multiple myeloma. I didn’t feel very lucky at the time but being referred to Kings I underwent a stem cell transplant April 2013. I have been in remission ever since. No medication needed since then! Early is good.
Margaret. Greenwood October 8, 2021
I have had breast cancer get yearly check up to day I thank them for all did they work really hard
Linda Johnston October 7, 2021
My lovely man was diagnosed in January 2020 just before the first lockdown. He was ‘fortunate’ in that his treatment commenced and continues although chemotherapy was advised it was halted because of the pandemic. NHSE approved Enzalutamide for those men who had been diagnosed with advanced ca prostate at this time. My husband’s cancer is treatable but not curable. Had the NHS and GP cancer services been on top of early screening and diagnosis his cancer could, would and should have been spotted in its earlier stages. It’s unforgivable that this is not the case.