More than 380,000 cancer patients 'not treated on time' over past nine years

Credit: PA

More than 380,000 cancer patients have not been treated on time since 2015, according to a study by Cancer Research UK.

The charity analysed the number of patients starting treatment for their disease in England more than 62 days after being urgently referred for suspected cancer.

The key NHS target is for 85% of people to start cancer treatment within 62 days. The last time that percentage was met was in December 2015.

This latest data comes as the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) said delays in cancer care were becoming "routine", with nearly half of cancer centres experiencing weekly delays to giving people treatment.

They highlighted that there is a "staggering" 30% shortfall in clinical radiologists, and a 15% shortfall in clinical oncologists - with figures projected to get worse in the next few years.

Cancer Research UK said that despite recent improvements, staff are hampered by having too few workers and a lack of diagnostic equipment, such as CT and MRI scanners.

In March, the proportion of patients in England waiting less than the target 62 days to receive their first cancer treatment was 68.7%.

"The General Election must be a turning point for cancer," said the Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, Michelle Mitchell, "any incoming UK government must make tackling cancer waits a top priority, and pledge to meet all cancer waiting time targets by the end of the next parliament.

"To do this, all political parties should commit to a long-term, fully funded strategy to back cancer research across the UK, and improve and reform cancer services in England," she said.

She said that without this, "cancer patients will not receive the level of care that they deserve."

Data from the RCR showed the number of cancer centres experiencing severe delays had almost doubled in a year, with 47% facing weekly delays in administering things like chemotherapy.

Almost all (97%) of clinical directors surveyed said workforce shortages were causing backlogs and delays at their place of work.

The RCR said demand "vastly outstrips" the capacity of the cancer workforce. Nearly one third of consultants leaving the workforce are under the age of 45.

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said "far too many patients are still waiting too long to start treatment after being diagnosed and cancer delays have soared to the worst levels on record."

He said the Liberal Democrats would introduce a legal guarantee for all cancer patients to start treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral.

A Conservative Party spokesman said "cancer survival rates continue to improve in the UK, with the disease being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often. But we know there is more to do."

"We have a clear plan to take bold action which is why we have opened 160 community diagnostic centres around the country which are delivering millions of scans, tests and checks and have committed to building 50 more sites, speeding up results to start treatment more quickly," they said.

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