Cancer patient waited 541 days for NHS treatment, report says

The longest waits for cancer treatment in England have soared since 2010, with one patient waiting 541 days, analysis suggests.

Two-thirds of NHS trusts reported having at least one cancer patient waiting more than six months last year, while almost seven in 10 (69%) trusts said they had a worse longest wait than in 2010. This was reflected in the average longest wait rising to 213 days – 16 days longer than in the year the Conservatives entered government.

The official target requires at least 85% of cancer patients to have their first treatment within 62 days of referral by their GP, but this has not been met for 27 months in a row.

More than 100,000 people have waited more than two months for treatment to start since the target was first missed in January 2014.

The longest waiting times data was obtained by Labour through freedom of information requests to England’s 172 acute and community health trusts, to which 95 responded.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “The number of people needing cancer treatment has risen sharply in the past 10 years and the government has simply failed to increase availability of services at the rate required.

“The truth is that the brilliant efforts of NHS staff around the country to deliver the best for their patients are being hampered by tight NHS budgets. Years of underfunding and abject failure to invest in the frontline doctors and nurses we need, means Theresa May is letting down cancer patients.

“Now we know the astonishing truth that some patients are waiting a year or more just to get treatment. It’s simply not good enough.”

The number of patients waiting more than 62 days last year was double that in 2010 (26,693 compared with 13,354), including 10,000 who waited for more than three months, NHS statistics show.

Every trust bar two who replied to Labour’s survey said that at least one patient had waited more than 62 days for treatment.

The figures also showed a deterioration in longest waits for two other key cancer targets since 2010.

After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, patients should receive their first definitive treatment within a month (31 days) and after an urgent referral for suspected cancer they should see a consultant within two weeks.

In both cases, as with the 62 days target, two-thirds of trusts had lengthier longest waits last year than in 2010. The average longest wait to start definitive treatment rose to 90 days – three higher than in 2010 – with one patient waiting 254 days. The average longest wait for a consultant appointment increased to 66 days – eight time higher than seven years ago – with the worst example being a patient who waited 377 days.

In an ideal world, people would start treatment within a month of being diagnosed, according to Cancer Research UK.

Sara Bainbridge, a policy manager at the charity, said: “Part of the reason why hospitals are struggling to meet the target is because NHS diagnostic services are short-staffed. The government must make sure there are more staff to deliver the tests and treatment that people need on time. The long-term plan for the NHS, which is being developed now, is a good opportunity to be more ambitious about cancer survival and increase staff numbers.”

Andrew Kaye, the head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “These findings show that despite the tireless work of doctors and nurses, it appears that some cancer patients are still enduring shockingly long waits to start treatment.

“Long delays can put people under incredible stress at an already difficult time and could also mean that someone’s health could take a turn for the worse.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Cancer care has improved significantly in recent years, with around 7,000 people alive today who would not have been if mortality rates stayed the same as in 2010.

“Nobody should wait longer than necessary for treatment and, despite a 115% increase in referrals since 2010, the vast majority of people start treatment within 62 days – backed by our £600m investment to improve cancer services.”

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