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Cancer delays 'leave patients at risk'

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The NHS is struggling to keep apace with demands for its services, and it is now estimated that every household will need to contribute £2,000 each year in taxes just to keep the system afloat[1].  And that will only bring about modest improvements in services over the next 15 years according to Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation.   None of this is good news for cancer patients, and their loved ones.  Cancer treatment waiting times are now being breached routinely, with one in six patients not starting their interventions within the 62 day urgent window[2]

It has been a long cold winter for the NHS.  Despite every effort, pressure on bed space has driven the need to cancel surgery – something no Trust ever does lightly, only when forced into a corner.  And unfortunately, many of those cancellations were for cancer treatment.  One can only imagine the frustration felt by those making the call to let people know their cancer treatment is being deferred, and the despair and fear of patients who know time is crucial to their very survival.

Missed cancer targets is nothing new

The main cancer target requires a minimum of 85% of cancer patients to be underway with their first treatment cycle within 65 days of referral by their GP.  Wales last met its goals in 2008, Northern Ireland has never met its targets first set in 2009, Scotland last achieved theirs in 2012, and England in 2015.  One patient apparently had to wait 541 days, a genuinely shocking and embarrassing failure for the NHS.

But the problem is not just lack of ability to serve cancer patients due to constrained budgets, demands for services are constantly ratcheting up.  According to research in the Lancet in 2015, demand for cancer care is expected to double by 2030.  Greg Rubin, Professor of General Practice and Primary Care at Durham University, who led the research stated, “With an ageing population and a rapidly increasing number of cancer survivors, the primary care cancer workload will increase substantially over the next ten years. Our challenge is how to prepare primary care doctors as the cornerstone in prevention, early detection, survivorship, and palliative care[3]”. 

Lack of trained staff is likely to exacerbate the problem

Professor Rubin’s research also makes a stark point with regard to the availability of trained cancer physicians.  While the demand for cancer treatments will increase in the region of 40% over the next 20 years, the number of oncologists is expected to rise by 25%, placing an ever greater burden of responsibility on the medical staff.  As such, there is a real need to prevent, or catch disease early, to avoid the need for more invasive and radical surgery.  It is hoped this can be achieved by improving access to diagnostic testing with more comprehensive guidance for those leading the charge in primary health settings.

Behind each statistic

You don’t need to be a statistician to see the trends in the cancer treatments data, but many forget that behind every number is a real person, a family, children, a husband, and a mother.  There is a very good reason why cancer targets are set, and why these are treated with great urgency – because rapid intervention can save or extend a life, and delays have the very opposite result.

Carly O’Neill recently wrote an open letter to Jeremy Hunt MP entitled ‘My cancer operation was cancelled and I can’t sleep at night. Jeremy Hunt, how can you?’.  Ms O’Neill who was diagnosed with skin cancer in October 2017 and will be getting married later in 2018, wrote about the anxiety of knowing she has a life-threatening health condition, and her worry about the imminent surgery and treatment she would need.  Having been through all of the stages leading up to the operation, at every stage pointing out how kind, calm, and understanding the NHS staff were, just before she was about to be anaesthatised, her procedure was cancelled due to the lack of a bed.  She wrote, “But at last, all the waiting was over, I was all prepared, the only thing left to do was to actually have the surgery. And after all that, Mr Hunt, after all that: I was sent home, because there wasn’t a bed available”[4].

Can I claim if my cancer treatment has been delayed?

If you have experienced cancer treatment delays, and this has caused further damage to your health as a result, then you may have a case for compensation.  By speaking to one of our specialist clinical negligence solicitors, we will listen carefully to the details of your situation, and advise you in would be eligible to claim.  We understand you will be deeply concerned for your health, and the impact any delay may have on your family, hence our solicitor will handle your case with the utmost empathy and care. 


Our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill and Simon Pimlott, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to claim compensation for personal injury. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and handled with the utmost sensitivity.






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