The number of cancer patients waiting twice as long as necessary to start cancer treatment has doubled since 2020, figures show

The number of cancer patients waiting twice as long for treatment as necessary has doubled since 2020, figures show.

Almost 16,000 patients have waited more than four months for cancer care after receiving an urgent referral over the past four years.

This is twice as long as the NHS target, which requires treatment to start within two months of the first suspicion of cancer.

Experts called the delays “worrying” and warned that long waits now could cost lives in coming years.

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats found that 6,334 patients waited more than 124 days last year – more than double the 2,922 in 2020.

The number of cancer patients waiting twice as long for treatment as necessary has doubled since 2020, figures show (Stock Photo)

Nearly 16,000 patients have waited more than four months for cancer care after receiving an urgent referral over the past four years (Stock Photo)

Nearly 16,000 patients have waited more than four months for cancer care after receiving an urgent referral over the past four years (Stock Photo)

More than 1,100 cancer patients had to wait more than six months to start treatment last year, according to the results of a freedom of information request.

Data has been received from 69 of Britain’s 137 acute care facilities, meaning the actual figures will be much higher.

Long waiting times at Leicester University Hospitals have almost quadrupled, with 484 patients on waiting lists for more than four months, compared to 122 in 2020.

About 163 had to wait more than six months, a more than fivefold increase from 31 in the same period.

Similarly, Leeds Teaching Hospitals saw 303 patients wait four months last year, compared to 120 in 2020.

One patient at Frimley NHS Foundation Trust, Surrey, started treatment more than two years (811 days) after being initially referred as an emergency.

Another at the Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust, Essex, waited 505 days for treatment, while one at the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust was on the waiting list for 496 days.

Dr. Owen Jackson, director of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Behind these missed targets are patients – friends, family and loved ones – having to wait unacceptably long and anxious times for treatment after already knowing they have cancer.

‘The reality is that the two-month treatment target has not been met since 2015 – and that means a long-term inability to plan and invest in cancer services.’

He called for more staff and equipment for the NHS, alongside reform of cancer services.

“Without this, cancer patients will face even more fear and anxiety, during an already stressful time in their lives,” he added.

Health leaders said NHS cancer checks have more than doubled in the past decade, with more cancer cases detected early.

Strikes by doctors and consultants in training also took their toll: more than 7,000 cancer operations have been postponed as a result of the strike.

Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s Acute Network, said health leaders are doing ‘everything they can’ to restore the performance of cancer services.

‘The rollout of rapid diagnostics has been very successful in diagnosing cancer more quickly, but there is a risk that this will leave more patients waiting for treatment than is currently possible.

Long waits at Leicester University Hospitals (pictured) have almost quadrupled, with 484 patients on the waiting list for more than four months, compared to 122 in 2020

Long waits at Leicester University Hospitals (pictured) have almost quadrupled, with 484 patients on the waiting list for more than four months, compared to 122 in 2020

One patient at the Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust (pictured), Essex, waited 505 days for treatment

One patient at the Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust (pictured), Essex, waited 505 days for treatment

‘Our members also welcome public health measures to tackle smoking and obesity – including the proposed smoking ban – which will help reduce the prevalence of some of the most common cancers.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said £2.3 billion has been invested in Community Diagnostic Centers across England, which are speeding up cancer diagnosis.

He said: ‘The NHS has seen and treated record numbers of cancer patients over the past two years, improving survival rates for almost all types of cancer – and it is making real progress in reducing long wait times for cancer diagnosis, with the latest data which shows that more than 78 percent of patients waited less than 28 days for their diagnosis in February.’