Published On: Fri, Dec 2nd, 2022

NHS backlog: Top cancer charity says tackling care pile-up is ‘pipe dream’ | UK | News


The detrimental impact of the pandemic on care continues to emerge. Surgeries and chemotherapy were postponed as COVID-19 swept the nation with research by Macmillan finding that 50,000 people missed a cancer diagnosis during the pandemic. The latest figures show that more and more patients are now waiting longer to receive life-saving diagnoses and treatment. The current target of reducing cancer waiting times to pre-COVID levels by March next year has now been described as “a pipedream” by the Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support Minesh Patel with the  now believed to be “on its knees”, Ms Patel having described cancer care in England as “at breaking point”.

In England, the monthly average for the number of people being forced to wait more than a month to start treatment is currently six times as high as it was a decade ago. 

for both diagnoses and treatment. This is particularly alarming as some cancers progress quickly – the risk of death from colon cancer increases by six percent every four weeks that surgery is delayed. 

In September alone, nearly 6,000 people in England waited more than two months to start treatment following an urgent referral from the GP – the second-highest figure on record. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. September was the fifth month in a row that more than 5,000 people had to wait this long. 

That same month, more than 2,400 people waited more than a month to start treatment having received the “clinical decision to treat”. This is the second-highest number of people on record. 

Mr Patel told : “Cancer care in England is at breaking point. Yet again, the latest data shows record highs for the number of people being forced to wait too long to see a specialist for a cancer diagnosis, and on top of this, there are thousands of people facing excruciating waits to start treatment. As things stand, next year’s target of reducing cancer waiting times to pre-COVID levels by March 2023 sounds like a pipedream.”

According to the British Medical Association, cancer targets “continue to be missed” as the current target of 93 percent of patients to be seen within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected has not been reached since May 2020. 

The new Faster Diagnosis Standard, implemented to speed up cancer diagnosis and improve patient experience, stipulates that 75 percent of patients’ cancer should be confirmed or ruled out within 28 days of an urgent referral. Breast Cancer Now, as well as a group of MPs, is calling for this target to be raised to 95 percent. 

However, the 75 percent target was once again not met in September, as almost 80,000 people had to wait more than a month to find out whether or not they had cancer, the highest figure on record for this target. 

READ MORE: Suspected cancer patients facing long waits, analysis suggests

The wait time between the date a hospital receives an urgent referral for suspected cancer and the start of treatment is currently 62 days. However, this again was breached in September. 

Only 60.5 percent of patients in England started treatment within 62 days, or two months, of being urgently referred by their GP with suspected cancer. This is well below the target of 85 percent. 

Not only is this the second-lowest performance on record but it is now the fifth month in a row this figure has been below 62 percent with nine out of ten NHS hospital trusts missing the target in August this year. 

With increased wait times comes increased risks of patients’ cancers progressing. Mr Patel continued: “Despite the extraordinary efforts from the NHS, every person who experiences delays is also faced with a risk to their chances of survival. These agonising waits will be leaving many people extremely anxious about their prognosis, taking a further toll on their physical and mental health.”

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Cancer mortality rates have also been affected as from September, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities’ breakdown of causes of death showed that almost 900 more people died from cancer than would be expected for this time of year.

Various organisations are now calling on the Government to urgently address what the Director of Evidence and Implementation at Cancer Research UK, Naser Turabi, described as the “chronic issues facing cancer services today” to take “cancer services from world lagging to world-leading”. 

Mr Turabi told Express.co.uk: “If we want to tackle the chronic issues facing cancer services today, we need a funded, comprehensive plan from Government that addresses workforce shortages, shortens routes to diagnosis, and sets out how patients across England will receive equal access to high-quality cancer care.

“The ten-year cancer plan for England, promised to people affected by cancer back in February, should be that plan that takes cancer services from world-lagging to world-leading – but Rishi Sunak has so far failed to recommit to this. Right now, the Government risks falling short of its manifesto promise to improve cancer survival across the UK.”

Mr Patel added: “The NHS is on its knees. Hardworking cancer professionals are doing everything they can but with such gaps in the workforce, staff are left feeling exhausted and burnt out. With gruelling winter months ahead, it is vital the Government puts sufficient and urgent plans in place to address this. This is fundamental for tackling the cancer backlog and will ensure that people living with cancer receive the care they so desperately need.” 





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