Delays for cancer treatment are the worst on record as it emerges one in five patients has to wait more than two MONTHS to start hospital treatment
- Public Accounts Committee said wait times have ‘steadily worsened recently’
- It added ‘more and more patients are being let down by a continued NHS failure’
- Surgeons told MPs that millions of patients were being left ‘in pain and in limbo’
Cancer waiting times are stuck in a ‘downward spiral’ and are costing lives, a damning report reveals today.
Delays are at their worst level on record – with one in five cancer patients forced to wait more than the target of 62 days to start hospital treatment.
A report by the Public Accounts Committee said waiting times have ‘steadily worsened in recent years’ for both cancer treatment and routine surgery.
It warned that a key 18-week target for planned operations for other ailments has effectively been scrapped, adding that ‘more and more patients are being let down by the continued failure of the NHS to meet waiting times’.
A damning report by the Public Accounts Committee said waiting times have ‘steadily worsened in recent years’ for both cancer treatment and routine surgery on the NHS
Surgeons told MPs on the committee that millions of patients were being left ‘in pain and in limbo’ because of delays – and with their conditions deteriorating. And experts warned that delays dramatically reduced cancer patients’ chances of survival.
Figures show that the number of people waiting for non-emergency surgery such as hip replacements now stands at 4.2million – an increase from 2.7million in 2013. Patients have a right to access services within maximum waiting times, but it has been six years since the NHS met the 62-day target from urgent referral for suspected cancer to treatment.
It warned that a key 18-week target for planned operations for other ailments has effectively been scrapped, adding that ‘more and more patients are being let down by the continued failure of the NHS to meet waiting times’. Stock picture
In the report, MPs warned that fewer than four in ten NHS trusts currently meet targets for cancer waiting times. Figures for January this year show that only 76 per cent of cancer patients got treatment on time – down from 84 per cent in 2014.
Meanwhile, the six-month target for planned operations has not been met for more than three years, leading to fears it will be abandoned in a forthcoming review of NHS goals.
The PAC report said NHS England had ‘gradually removed financial sanctions and penalties’ against trusts for failing to meet the 18-week targets – implying it is ‘no longer important’. National health bodies ‘have a very limited understanding’ about the impact on patients of longer waits, which often cause their condition to deteriorate.
Surgeons told MPs on the committee that millions of patients were being left ‘in pain and in limbo’ because of delays. Stock picture
The wait that cost a grandfather his life
Peter Filipovic died from operable cancer after waiting months for treatment.
The 62-year-old grandfather was diagnosed with a small tumour on his pancreas and was referred to specialists at King’s College Hospital in London for surgery.
Two months after his initial diagnosis, Mr Filipovic, from Kent, turned up for his operation only to be mistakenly told that he didn’t have cancer.
His wife of 42 years, Jean, said: ‘We had to wait more than a month for our appointment at King’s.
‘We then waited another month for an appointment where Peter asked about the operation and the doctor said, “What operation?” We said, “For the cancer,” and the doctor said, “You haven’t got cancer.” We obviously felt relieved.’
However, Mr Filipovic continued to deteriorate. He had to wait another two months before further tests revealed he did in fact have cancer. But he was already too ill to receive the life-saving operation. Mr Filipovic died in the summer of 2012 – more than six months after his initial diagnosis.
In 2016, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ruled that King’s had failed to act quickly enough and had given the family ‘confusing and contradictory’ information.
MPs said: ‘When waiting times are longer, patients may experience additional pain, anxiety and inconvenience.’
They warned that the crisis will escalate unless more doctors and hospital beds are brought in and said the NHS could not give a commitment about when the cancer waiting times will be achieved again.
The ageing and growing population has been blamed for a dramatic increase in the demand for surgery and treatment – with referrals for suspected cancer rising by 94 per cent over the past eight years.
The number of NHS beds has also fallen by 7 per cent since 2010–11, a total of 8,000 beds. This means doctors regularly have to cancel routine operations because beds are taken up by emergency patients.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairman of the committee, said: ‘It is unacceptable that the proportion of patients being treated within NHS waiting times standards is continuing to spiral downwards; NHS England and the Department of Health & Social Care must regain control.’
Matt Case, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘For anyone waiting for a cancer diagnosis or the all-clear, it’s an incredibly anxious time, and delays can make that worse. Workforce shortages also make it harder to spot cancers at an earlier stage, which would give patients more treatment options and a better chance of long-term survival.’
A Department of Health and spokesman said: ‘We’re providing an extra £33.9billion a year by 2023-24 through the NHS Long Term Plan which will see the health service grow the amount of planned surgery year on year and reduce the waiting list.’
An NHS spokesman said: ‘[Staff] are treating hundreds of thousands more patients within the waiting times targets’ than they did even three years ago, and cancer survival is now at a record high – both facts it is surprising that this report largely ignored.’
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