Number of cancer patients starting NHS treatment on time lowest on record in Wales

1,760 cancer patients started their first definitive treatment in January - just 50.1%. Credit: PA Images

The number of cancer patients in Wales starting treatment on time is the lowest on record, Welsh Government figures have revealed.

Just 50.1% of patients started treatment within 62 days of first being suspected of cancer, figures for January show.

It comes after data published in February revealed that 2022 was the worst year so far for Wales' new cancer treatment targets, with more people than ever before facing delays.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan recognised that cancer performance is not where she expects it to be.

But waiting times in emergency departments and ambulances response times slightly improved, despite disruption caused by industrial action.

In February, 71.6% of patients waited less than the target time of four hours in emergency departments - up by 1.7% in January. The target is 95%.

50.9% of the most immediately life-threatening calls received an ambulance response within the target time of eight minutes - up by 2% in January. The target is 65%.

The number of waits to start NHS treatment also continued to fall by more than 1,000 in January - leaving around 576,000 patients still waiting.

The Health Minister said she expects these improvements to continue and at a greater pace in the warmer months.

The charity Macmillan Cancer Support described treatment in Wales as "resting firmly on the flop of a coin".

Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales said: "People with cancer now face no better than 50/50 odds on whether they are treated on time, or whether they face the heartache of delays that may impact on the outcomes that can be achieved for them and their quality of life.

"Despite the tireless efforts of NHS staff, there can be little doubt that Wales' cancer care system is in crisis. It is a system that is consistently failing to keep up with a rising demand for cancer care, or to manage the wider pressures being placed upon it.

“This is a situation that will only change if urgent action is taken."

Defending cancer figures, Ms Morgan said they reflect the Welsh Government's focus on reducing the number of people who have already waited longer than 62 days.

But she recognised that cancer performance "is not where [she] expects it to be".

Eluned Morgan said: "We are investing heavily in cancer services to improve early detection and provide rapid access to investigation, treatment and high-quality care.

"This includes £86m for new cancer diagnostic and treatment facilities and the increase in the number of training places, with more specialists in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

"The NHS's Cancer Improvement Plan, published in January, will help improve patient outcomes and experiences in the long term, prevent and detect cancer earlier and reduce waiting times.

"I have this week asked the Chief Executive of the NHS in Wales that all health boards put an even greater focus on speeding up early diagnosis and treatment for cancer, ahead of the ministerial cancer summit next week."