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Three-month cancer waiting list exceeds 10,000 patients for the first time

According to leaked data viewed by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), more than 10,000 people are waiting three months or longer for cancer services. More than 11% of the list are said to have waited more than 62 days. The bulk of 62-days referrals are made by GPs, and classed as ‘urgent’. The other 7,800 patients waiting more than 62-days are not defined so by NHS England.

NHS England said in 2018 that there should be “zero tolerance [of] non-clinically justifiable 104-day delays”. One senior figure in cancer policy told HSJ the backlog position was “awful” and “a reflection of a worsening trajectory overwhelming diagnostic capacity in particular”.

Sajid Javid’s release of the 10-year Cancer Strategy is expected this month and referrals are being accelerated by the NHS to “mitigate the slump seen during the pandemic”.

These figures highlight the pressure on NHS cancer services at present, as referrals surpass the diagnostic and treatment capacity available.

A study in The Lancet estimated in July 2020 that the diagnostic delays alone up to that point would see more than 3,000 excess deaths from the four major tumour types (breast, colorectal, lung and oesophageal) as well as up to 63,000 life years lost.

An NHSE spokesperson said: “Thanks to our national campaigns and early diagnosis initiatives, urgent cancer referrals have been at record levels over the past 12 months – almost one fifth higher than before the pandemic when people were reluctant to come forward.

Natalie Creaney