Shocking 160,000 cancer patients suffer delays to vital treatment

Shocking 160,000 cancer patients suffer delays to vital treatment


Up to 160,000 cancer patients have had target-busting waits to get ­life-saving care in the three years since the start of the pandemic, ­figures are expected to show on Thursday. The NHS England data will lay bare the huge surge in people left in limbo since March 2020, when the first lockdown was introduced.

Existing figures show between March 2020 and December 2022, 145,241 cancer patients waited beyond the 62-day target for ­treatment. This includes 40,440 patients delayed beyond 104 days.

The figures show the number of patients waiting for treatment in the third quarter of 2022 rocketed to 17,465. Campaigners say once tomorrow’s figures – forecast to be similar to the previous quarter – are added, the overall number will hit 160,000.

They insist it is more evidence that Britain is in the grip of a “cancer catastrophe” and have urged ­ministers to do more to tackle the backlog.

The Government recommends that no more than 15 percent of cancer patients wait beyond 62 days – or two months – between an urgent GP referral and their first treatment. But the data, analysed by the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign group, reveals that in the same period more than 30 percent of patients have missed the target.

It comes as NHS England’s cancer treatment objective was pushed back a year to March 2024.

The target specifically relates to cutting the total number of patients having to wait more than 62 days to the pre-pandemic level of 14,000.

The campaign group has warned that without a specific cancer plan, the number of patients missing the target by March 2024 will rise to more than 200,000.

Professor Pat Price, co-founder of the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign and leading oncologist, said: “As a cancer clinician, it is heart-breaking to see nearly 160,000 cancer patients have missed their life-saving treatment since the start of the pandemic.

“Despite the waiting times reaching record-breaking highs, the backlog growing, and the situation worsening each month, the Government recently shelved the cancer plan – the one ­strategy needed for us to climb out of this mess.

This is nothing short of a cancer catastrophe and yet more damning evidence that the cancer backlog remains unsolved.”

Prof Price has called on Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay to meet with her and other campaigners to discuss how to tackle the crisis.

She says cost-effective ­solutions, such as high-tech radiotherapy treatment, can dramatically and quickly improve cancer survival rates. She added: “If we continue with no specific cancer plan, we are deeply worried that the numbers of cancer patients missing crucial ­treatment targets will rise to over 200,000 by next year.”

The Daily Express is battling for a boost in radiotherapy funding.

Our crusade has been backed by England and Manchester United ­legend Bryan Robson – a cancer survivor himself, Radiotherapy UK and the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign. We are calling on the government to commit to:

  • a rolling programme of new ­radiotherapy machines to replace old ones to handle rising cancer rates
  • new satellite radiotherapy centres in areas without treatment facilities to slash journey times
  • a boost to the radiotherapy ­workforce to break the cancer ­backlog and help get the UK to the top of the survival league tables.

To do this, the service will need a £1billion boost over five years.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working to reduce the 62-day cancer backlog which has fallen nine percent since peaking in 2020 but we know there is more to do.

“Last year saw the highest number of urgent GP referrals on record with more than 2.8 million and it is encouraging to have more people coming forward for vital checks.

“NHS England supports trusts requiring the greatest help to cut ­cancer waiting lists and the department is working with NHS England to make further improvements.”

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