Record high delays plague English patients seeking cancer care

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | February 25, 2022
European News Rad Oncology

The figure was higher than the previous record of 235,549 for the full year before and equates to 41,490 people a month who were delayed. As many as 497,877 are projected to miss a first appointment when the 2021-2022 study period is finished at the end of next month. This will be an almost 11-fold rise on the 45,291 cases documented a decade ago.

Additionally, 12,498 people during the first seven months of 2021 to 2022 were unable to undergo their first definitive treatment within 31 days of doctors choosing to treat them. This was higher than the 13,907 in 2020-2021 and could reach 21,425 by the end of March. The figure ten years ago was 4,005.

The figures are worse for those waiting 62 days for their first treatment. Between April and November, 32,647 missed undergoing surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. If this continues, until the end of the next month, a total of 55,966 people will have been affected.

Further exacerbating the situation are delays in the publication of an “elective recovery plan” by the Department of Health and Social Care for addressing the backlog. The publication was delayed for a second time earlier this month due to a disagreement between NHS England and the government over the deadline by which NHS trusts must treat all patients who have waited either one or two years for care, which in most cases is an operation, according to The Guardian.

“There will be an aim to end 104-week waiters by the end of March,” an NHS source told The Guardian. “And nobody will wait more than a year for treatment by March 2025, but the government is trying to bring that forward to March 2024, and that is still being negotiated.”

In addition, the NHS is also facing long waiting lists amid severe staffing shortages that were as high as 100,000 prior to COVID-19. "We have a shortfall of nearly 2000 consultant radiologists, the doctors who interpret complex scans, and we need a long-term plan to solve this; equally, too many scanning machines are out of date, making them slower, less accurate and disconnected from IT systems,” said Dr. Jeanette Dickson, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, in a statement. “IT is a huge problem in the NHS already — systems don’t talk to each other and even logging on can take a doctor valuable time. Finally, we need more consultant oncologists — we’re seeing a shortfall of nearly 20%.”

The number of patients unable to obtain cancer care has risen every year since 2009 when the Labour government created the targets, according to the analysis. In a statement, the DHSC said the pandemic has only made this list grow. It added, however, that most cancer services were back to or above pre-pandemic levels. “Our record investment in the NHS includes an extra £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years to cut waiting times, including through delivering an extra 9 million checks, scans and operations, making sure more patients get the treatment they need sooner.”

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