Patients face postcode lottery for cancer treatment with trusts missing targets

9 June 2021, 10:19 | Updated: 9 June 2021, 10:37

LBC Exclusive
LBC Exclusive. Picture: LBC
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

Fewer than one-in-five hospital trusts are hitting their target for offering cancer patients their first treatment within two months, according to LBC's analysis of NHS England data.

Back in March 2019, more than 40% of hospital trusts met their target of offering 85% of cancer patients treatment within 62 days.

But by March this year – the latest numbers available for this year – that had slipped to just 17%.

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting more than three months for treatment in hospital has more than doubled from 6% to 14%.

Angus Dalgleish, Professor of Oncology at St George's, the University of London, told LBC the NHS had been “turned into the National Covid Service”.

“I think we are going (to see) far more deaths from cancer and other causes, unnecessary deaths, because of the deflection due to Covid. That is really a national tragedy we predicted and it’s horrifying that it’s coming true.

“The worst figures… are so bad that we are going to see tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths from cancer.”

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LBC has also found there is a postcode lottery.

Cancer sufferers diagnosed in Edmonton, North London, could expect to be deferred to North Middlesex University Hospital for treatment. But according to the latest numbers available, there's a 70% chance they will have to wait longer than two months before they get that crucial first round of chemotherapy. Half of all cancer patients to that hospital are now waiting longer than 90 days.

But six miles away in Homerton, East London, only one-in-20 patients are waiting longer than two months for their first treatment.

Only 1 in 5 NHS trusts in England now start treatment within two months of diagnosis, which the government recommend.
Only 1 in 5 NHS trusts in England now start treatment within two months of diagnosis, which the government recommend. Picture: LBC

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth told LBC the Government needed to invest more in cancer treatment.

“Cancer doesn’t wait and everyone knows that if you have cancer diagnosis you need treatment quickly and speedily. There’ll be families who have lost loved ones to cancer and they’ll inevitably be asking themselves could their loved one, their father, their mother, grandfather, grandmother, could they have had their treatment sooner, could they have been saved, had they not had to wait so long for cancer treatment?”

Under current plans, the Government plans to return to pre-pandemic levels of treatment by July, and have the backlog cleared by March next year.

A spokeswoman told LBC: “Cancer diagnosis and treatment has remained a top priority throughout the pandemic. The majority of patients referred by a GP see a cancer specialist within two weeks and over two million urgent referrals took place and over 570,000 people have been receiving treatment since the pandemic began.

“The NHS has published their plan to recover cancer services, and we’re providing an extra £1 billion to boost diagnosis and elective treatment in the year ahead and investing £325 million in NHS diagnostic machines to improve the experience of cancer patients.”