Patients face a 55-day wait for cancer treatment as backlog worsens after Covid pandemic 

Patients face a 55-day wait for cancer treatment as backlog worsens after Covid pandemic

  • The average wait for cancer treatment in Britain is 55 days new figures show
  • The stats make the UK one of the worst places in Europe to get the disease 
  • The UK’s annual cancer mortality rate is the highest out of all G7 countries 

The average wait for cancer treatment in Britain is 55 days – one week longer than two years ago, figures show.

And the long delay is leading to avoidable deaths and makes the UK one of the worst places in Europe to get the disease.

Waiting time is measured from when a patient is referred by a GP to when they start their first treatment in hospital.

Some parts of the country have longer delays than the 55-day average.

The UK came 33rd out of 41 developed nations for cancer mortality in 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found. Only Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia and Hungary were worse.

The UK came 33rd out of 41 developed nations for cancer mortality in 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found. Stock image of a woman suffering from cancer

The UK’s annual cancer mortality rate – of 216 per 100,000 people – is the highest out of the G7 countries. Experts think the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to survival rates falling for the first time in a generation.

In 2020, some 38,000 fewer people were diagnosed with cancer than in 2019. Professor Sir Mike Richards, former cancer director at the Department of Health and now chairman of the UK national screening committee, told The Sunday Times: ‘Across a range of diseases, but particularly notably in cancer, we offer a late diagnosis service in this country, and that needs to be tackled urgently.

‘There are multiple factors, many of which were present long before the pandemic, but which were made worse by Covid-19.’

Michelle Mitchell (pictured), from Cancer Research UK, said: ¿Delays of several weeks can often have serious implications in terms of prognosis'

Michelle Mitchell (pictured), from Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Delays of several weeks can often have serious implications in terms of prognosis’

Waiting times for vital CT and MRI scans have grown tenfold in the past three years, with about 300,000 patients waiting longer than six weeks for cancer tests in England. In 2020, England performed 99 CT scans per 1,000 people compared with 113 in Spain, 150 in Germany, 196 in Denmark and 205 in Belgium.

Similarly, England performed 63 MRI scans per 1,000 people compared with 150 in Germany, 85 in Spain and 91 in Denmark. In the UK, about 167,000 people die from cancer every year.

Martin Marshall, head of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘The delays that we see in diagnosing cancer are a product of three factors, some relate to patients, some relate to the gatekeeper function of GPs and some relate to the wider system.’

Michelle Mitchell, from Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Delays of several weeks can often have serious implications in terms of prognosis. Early diagnosis and quick treatment need to be a top priority for the Government.’

The Department of Health said: ‘We are working at pace to improve outcomes for cancer patients across England, including by opening over 80 community diagnostics centres which have delivered over two million additional scans, tests and checks.’

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