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Cancer charity criticises UK cancer delays and calls for “immediate action”

A recent analysis by Macmillan Cancer Support has found that 180,000 people waited “too long” for diagnosis tests or to start treatment across the UK over the last 10 years.

The charity has now called for “immediate action” to address waiting time performance.

Recent Research

Macmillan came to the figure after analysing data on cancer waiting time targets across the UK since 2014 and concluded that UK cancer care is in “crisis”, and that performance against Government-set cancer waiting times targets fell to the worst level on record in 2022 in all four UK nations.

A similar survey of almost 2,500 adults in the UK who have had a cancer diagnosis in the last 10 years, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the charity, found that 556 had experienced a delay to treatment and diagnosis.

Among those surveyed, 23% said the delay had seen their symptoms get worse or made their cancer ‘incurable’ or otherwise led to them having ‘fewer treatment options’.

The importance of early diagnosis

One of the most important aspects of treating cancer effectively is early diagnosis and intervention.

Cancer waiting time performance in England has steeply declined in recent years as the NHS has struggled to keep pace with the number of people presenting with potential symptoms of the disease and to swiftly treat those people who have received a diagnosis of cancer within agreed waiting times.

Gemma Peters, Chief Executive of MacMillan has said “Every single person who has faced a worse outcome from their cancer diagnosis because of delays will know the devastating impact that waiting has had on their lives, from the burden of anxiety that their cancer is growing and for many the devastating news that their cancer is now incurable. This is categorically unacceptable and entirely avoidable.”

Several factors have contributed to the decline in waiting time performance, with delays in diagnosis and treatment exacerbated by a growing population and changing demography which is seeing extra demand from an ageing population to access early investigation and treatment. Key personnel shortages within the NHS, such as specialist nurses and radiologists, have also contributed towards poor performance within UK nations.

Wales recorded its worst ever cancer waiting times in January whereas in Scotland just 71% of patients are starting their treatment on time. In Northern Ireland the situation is even more stark, with just 38.6% of people beginning treatment when they should have.

Regrettably, in my role as a medical negligence expert, I often see cases in which clients have experienced delays in diagnosis of cancer and the consequences this can have, including reduced life expectancy and missed opportunities to undergo less invasive treatment. Unfortunately, the current strain being placed on both the NHS and primary care services is likely to mean many patients will continue to face unacceptable waiting times before receiving a diagnosis and accessing the treatment they require.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by cancer by visiting our dedicated cancer claims section.

At least 100,000 of those 180,000 people have seen their symptoms worsen, or their cancer progress or their chances reduce of successfully being treated because they have had to wait.”