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NHS disaster as patients’ cancer worsens due to ‘entirely avoidable delays’


Thousands of cancer patients have seen their disease worsen because of “unacceptable and entirely avoidable” delays, an analysis has revealed.

Macmillan Cancer Support says an extra 180,000 have waited too long for tests and treatment over the past decade as targets have been repeatedly missed.

Gemma Peters, chief executive of the charity, said: “The figures we’re talking about just show how much Macmillan, NHS staff, people with cancer and many other organizations have been sounding the alarm long before the pandemic.

“There is a crisis in cancer care after years of Governments failing to act. Anyone whose diagnosis has had a worse outcome due to delays will know the devastating impact waiting has had on their lives.”

She said this could include “the burden of worrying that their cancer is progressing, and, for many, the devastating news that their cancer is now incurable”. She stressed: “This is completely unacceptable and completely avoidable.” The damning indictment comes three years after the Daily Express revealed a diagnosis and treatment crisis that has fueled the pandemic.

In January more than 7,000 people waited more than two months to start treatment after an urgent referral from a GP – the highest figure on record.

Meanwhile, 2022 was the worst year for cancer patient waiting times – the first year in which all of England’s national targets were met at least once.

Macmillan and 61 other charities joined together as One Cancer Voice to deliver an 80,000-name petition to No.10 in March calling for the disease to be prioritized after a dedicated 10-year “war on cancer” ends.

Cancer is likely to strike 445,000 people in Britain this year and in each of the next five if trends continue, with the total increasing the current toll by almost a tenth.

Researchers based their estimates on 2023 to 2028 – the exact timeframe of the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy which is yet to be published.

Macmillan said the NHS cancer team is being stretched to breaking point.

Today the charity launches What Are We Waiting For? campaign, for action by Governments across the UK.

The extra 180,000 patients who overstayed – equal in size to the combined populations of Ipswich and Dundee – are calculated from missed targets since 2014.

Ms Peters said: “Action will start immediately to tackle the problems people are currently facing. That’s why Macmillan is launching our new campaign, asking all four UK Governments to commit to providing funding and support for the NHS.” Macmillan estimates that one in five patients diagnosed in the last ten years believed that their cancer had been delayed.

Naman Julka-Anderson, a radiographer, said some patients had come to chemotherapy care “only to be told that we cannot deliver their treatment due to staff shortages. It’s inhumane.”

Former World Health Organization cancer chief and Daily Express Columnist Karol Sikora said: “We turned the country on its head to fight Covid – in terms of years of life lost, the cancer crisis will dwarf the impact of the virus.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “The NHS has seen and treated the highest number of cancer patients in the last two years, with cancer being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often.”

  • More than 651,000 normal operations and appointments have been rescheduled due to industrial action across England since December, figures show.

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