21,000 cancer patients treated late in 2014-15

In March we reported on figures showing that NHS targets for the treatment of cancer patients had been missed for the first three-quarters of 2014, with 5,500 patients having to wait longer than the specified period for treatment between July and September.

New figures just published by the NHS show this trend to have continued, with more than 21,000 people not having been seen within the 62-day target in the last financial year. According to NHS targets, 85% of cancer patients should be treated within 62 days of being urgently referred by their GP, but just 83.4% were seen on time in 2014-15.

 In a BBC report on the new figures, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, Sara Hiom, commented: “This is the worst result since records began, in 2009. Thousands of cancer patients are being failed. Patients want confidence that suspected cancer is taken seriously and prioritised by the NHS. These breaches have become a trend, and they are worsening. This is why urgent action must be taken to support the NHS to ensure it has the resources it needs to meet this challenge.”

The BBC report quotes Sean Duffy, NHS England's national clinical director for Cancer, as saying: “The NHS is helping more people survive cancer than ever before. Swift diagnosis is key, and our latest annual figures show that over 1.5 million people were urgently referred to a specialist by their GP – that's over 70% more than five years ago. But it's crucial we focus on maintaining waiting time standards for treatment as demand increases, and we are working hard to pinpoint any issues on the ground.”

The figures also reveal the proportion NHS patients treated on time in the previous quarter according to cancer type:

  • Breast      cancer – 95.9%
  • Skin      cancers – 95.4%
  • Urological      cancers – 78%
  • Lung      cancer – 75.6%
  • Lower      gastrointestinal cancer – 73.3%

Gordon Wishart, professor of cancer surgery and Medical Director at Check4Cancer, commented: “After the early indications in March, these figures, unfortunately, do not come as a surprise. They are a further reminder that we need to take urgent action; early detection is critical, and the later the diagnosis and treatment, the more lives will be lost. What is also worrying here is that lung cancer has such a poor rate. It is a cancer that is typically diagnosed late, which means the urgency is all the greater. The bottom line is that we need to be detecting all cancers as early as possible, and with the NHS under such a huge burden, the more business can do to help its employees with regard their cancer risk, the better.”