Cancer crisis reaches ‘tipping point’, experts warn
Cancer treatment is at a ‘tipping point’ as experts warn the upward trend in deaths ‘is likely to continue’.
Leading oncologists and doctors have set out the desperate and urgent need for action to deal with the crisis engulfing the UK’s cancer services.
In an essay published in The Lancet Oncology, they urge the government to address the situation with the same focus and urgency that was used to launch the Covid vaccine.
And they warn of the danger of the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS failing to accept “the true scale of the problem”.
Cancer performance data shows that only six out of ten cancer patients in October started treatment within two months of an urgent referral from their GP (red line). The figure is the second lowest since records began in 2009. NHS targets state that the figure should be at least 85 per cent. This means 5,728 people have waited more than eight weeks to start cancer treatment (blue bars).
NHS data from November showed that in the last 12 months, 69,000 patients in the UK waited longer than the recommended 62 days from referral for suspected cancer to starting treatment – double the number in 2017-18.
Meanwhile, 13 per cent of cancer patients in England waited more than 104 days to start treatment in September – double the maximum recommended waiting time.
The specialists from Imperial College London, Kings College London, Anglia Ruskin University and Wilmslow Health Center in Cheshire argued that some areas such as radiotherapy are now “critically threatened”.
In their paper, they refer to research suggesting a 17 per cent increase in cancer deaths in the UK due to delays in diagnosis and treatment.
Further statistics show that excess cancer deaths are already 8,815 as of March 2020, with 3,327 in the last six months, and this trend is “likely to continue”.
Professor Pat Price, a senior oncologist from Imperial College London, said: “This is a turning point for the UK’s cancer services – the biggest cancer crisis ever – and we cannot accept the normalization of record-breaking waiting times for cancer treatments.
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“Clinicians know it doesn’t have to be this way and we don’t need new breakthrough research to avert disaster.
“We need a radical new plan, investment in capacity solutions for treatments like radiotherapy, and the political will to treat more patients on time.
“If ever there was a time for us to make much-needed investments in cancer care, it’s now.”
In their essay, the team wrote: “In November 2022, NHS England reported the worst wait times ever for cancer treatment.
“Short term action is needed now to save lives. To improve cancer survival immediately, the UK needs to provide cancer treatment within the recommended timeframe.
“It doesn’t need any research breakthroughs, just an effective, efficient way to diagnose and treat cancer patients.
“The NHS and frontline workers need the same urgency and leadership combined with the power to work through the obstructive bureaucracy handed to the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce.
“The UK public and the NHS should not tolerate the normalization of delayed cancer care. There is urgency.
“While all NHS backlogs are important, cancer backlog is the most time sensitive and deadliest.
“Unless the UK acts differently now, cancer services may simply not recover.”
Professor Gordon Wishart, former cancer surgeon and Check4Cancer’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “The cancer residue caused by Covid is one of the deadliest residues and has helped widen the cracks in our cancer services.
“Readers will be shocked to learn that even before the pandemic, the UK was at the bottom of the cancer survivor rankings.
“Now we face a deadly cancer time bomb of treatment delays that are getting worse every month because we don’t have a sufficiently ambitious plan from policymakers. I urge the government to work with us.’
dr David Collingridge, editor-in-chief of The Lancet Oncology magazine, said the paper offers a “gloomy narrative” and “makes for daunting and depressing reading”.
“The authors provide an open and honest assessment of cancer care in the UK over the past decade and reveal a healthcare system that is approaching a catastrophic event,” he said.
“In a system where cancer outcomes are deteriorating, patient access to care and screening decreases significantly.
“Politicians of all stripes must put an end to the point-scoring and childish bickering and come together to develop a pragmatic, workable, and safe healthcare system that works for staff and patients.
“What does it take for this to happen? Thousands of treatable cancer patients dying needlessly? We can not wait anymore.’
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https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-11538039/Cancer-crisis-reaches-watershed-moment-experts-warn.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Cancer crisis reaches ‘tipping point’, experts warn