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15 Dec, 2022 15:30

UK doctors warn of ‘biggest cancer crisis’

The NHS has put treatment delays down to staffing shortages and insufficient diagnostic capacity
UK doctors warn of ‘biggest cancer crisis’

Britain is in the midst of a major healthcare crisis as months-long delays in cancer treatment have become increasingly commonplace, leading to higher mortality, the National Health Service (NHS) has warned. 

On Wednesday, several British media outlets cited recent NHS figures, which showed that nearly 40% of all cancer patients urgently referred by their GP in October had to wait two months before receiving treatment. This is said to be the second-worst performance on record and well short of the 15% target.

The Guardian quoted doctors as saying that a mere four-week delay in cancer treatment “increases mortality by between 6% and 13% for solid cancers, with further increases if the delay is longer.”

Meanwhile, according to an article published in the Lancet Oncology journal, there has been a 17% rise in UK cancer deaths caused by delays in diagnosis and treatment since the Covid-19 pandemic. This is believed to have contributed considerably to the breakdown of cancer treatment practices in the country.

Clinicians from Imperial College London, the Institute of Cancer Policy at King’s College, Radiotherapy UK, and Check4Cancer have called for immediate action to tackle the crisis. 

Oncologist and founder of the CatchUpWithCancer campaign, Professor Pat Price, characterized the current situation as a “watershed moment for UK cancer services – the biggest cancer crisis ever.” He also warned that Britain “can’t accept the normalization of record-breaking cancer treatment waiting times.”

Other healthcare professionals noted that the “NHS and frontline staff need the same urgency and leadership, combined with the authority to work through obstructive bureaucracy, that was given to the Covid-19 vaccine taskforce.”

A 2021 report cited staff shortages and a lack of diagnostic tools, especially in the areas of radiology and pathology, among the main reasons for the current state of affairs.

In order to turn the tide, doctors called on the NHS to find ways to retain staff and “give them the tools and support they need to do their jobs.”

Special emphasis should be placed on investment in radiotherapy, which is said to be in danger of collapse in Britain. 

Meanwhile, an NHS spokesperson told the media that the authorities are already “investing billions to expand diagnostic and treatment services to meet increased demand.”