The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has now published their clinical radiology and clinical oncology workforce census reports for 2022 which has revealed a worrying trend in delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment. According to the RCR, the reports show the UK “sitting on a ticking timebomb in cancer diagnosis and care, putting patients at risk.”

A poll has been taken of 60 directors of the UK’s cancer centres and a concerning 95% of those polled consider that staff shortages are resulting in longer waiting lists and delays in cancer treatment. In one area in particular, prostate radiotherapy patients are facing a minimum waiting list of 3 months to begin treatment, whilst breast cancer patients were waiting 7-8 weeks for treatment.

Delayed cancer treatment is associated with poorer survival rates and prognosis according to research published by the BMJ, while the RCR reports that every 4 week delay to treatment results in the risk of death increasing by around 10%.

Dr Tom Roques, vice chair of clinical oncology at the RCR, has told Sky News: “Our major concern at the moment is that patients are not being diagnosed with cancer and other serious conditions quickly enough and they’re not getting their treatment quickly enough”.

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital to improving outcomes for cancer patients, however, a study published by Cancer Research UK has suggested that 1 in 4 cancer patients experience an avoidable delay to diagnosis.

There are many reasons why an avoidable delayed cancer diagnosis might occur. The vast majority of patients will first report symptoms to their GP, however, there is an increasing failure to recognise “red flags” and to make appropriate referrals for further investigation. This is having a catastrophic effect on cancer patients who are likely to face poorer outcomes and even significantly reduced life expectancies which could have been avoided if appropriate action had been taken.

In 2021, NHS England introduced the Faster Diagnosis Standard which provides that patients should not wait more than 28 days from referral to find out whether they have cancer or not. Further, the current targets in England dictate that patients should wait no more than 2 months (62 days) from referral to starting treatment. However, around 34,000 patients were still waiting more than 2 months for treatment in September 2022.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further compounded the problems and despite NHS England publishing its Covid recovery plan in February 2022, the BBC reported that the NHS missed their key target to cut the number of patients waiting more than 2 months to start cancer treatment to 14,000 by the end of March 2023.

The reports paint a worrying picture of avoidable delays in both cancer diagnosis and treatment which is having a severe impact on patients and their families who are left to deal with the repercussions. If you or your loved one has been affected by these delays, please contact our firm to discuss how we can assist with a medical negligence claim.

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