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NHS England waiting times for cancer treatment and appointments hit record high


Waiting times for cancer referrals and treatment are at record highs in England as the country emerges from the pandemic, a damning analysis has revealed amid a row over the Government's NHS catch-up plan. 

An estimated half a million people with suspected cancer will not be seen by a specialist within the two-week maximum target set by the health service this year.

And for the first time ever, the number of patients diagnosed with the disease who do not start treatment within the crucial one-to-two-month window is expected to exceed 75,000. 

Reacting to the figures, which were laid bare in an analysis by the House of Commons library, experts warned the delays could reverse survival rates. Cancer charities said patients directly affected by the waits were languishing in 'unimaginable distress and anxiety'.

The Commons library analysis was commissioned by shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who himself was treated for kidney cancer last year.

It found that, between April and November last year, 290,428 with suspected cancer did not see an oncologist within 14 days of an urgent referral from their GP — a target introduced in 2009.

Despite covering just seven months, it was the most of any full year and significantly more than the 235,549 in 2020. It is the equivalent of around 41,000 late referrals each month. 

The analysis warns that if the trend continues, up to 498,000 people with symptoms synonymous with cancer will not have had their first specialist appointment by the end of the 2021-2022 period in April.

If the projections come true, it will represent a more than 10-fold rise on the 45,000 a decade ago.  

Commons researchers also found a record 12,498 people diagnosed with cancer between April and November last year did not get their 'first definitive treatment' within 31 days of their diagnosis.

They warned it could mean that, by April 2022, more than 21,000 confirmed cancer patients will have waited  longer than a month in the past year for care. That would be five times more than the number in 2011.

But there are an even larger number of patients not getting their first treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral — another crucial NHS cancer target,

Among people diagnosed in the seven months of 2021, 32,647 were not given surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy within that timescale.