Missed cancer waiting time target is a national disgrace

On Wednesday, it was revealed that the 62-day cancer waiting time target had once again been missed, with the publication of new statistics from NHS England.

This target sets out the time it should take for people with cancer to begin treatment following an urgent GP referral.  The latest figures show that 68 trusts in England have failed to meet the target, leaving more than 5,000 people with cancer waiting more than 62 days to start urgent treatment.  At Macmillan, we understand this is caused by reduced resources, leadership and capacity in the system, at a time when the number of people living with cancer has grown to over 2.5 million.

Yesterday’s figures are deeply concerning for two reasons.  First and foremost, it is about people’s lives.  Macmillan knows firsthand the anxiety that people and their loved ones experience, knowing that they urgently need life saving treatment, but the treatment is out of reach.

However, the figures are also of concern because they may reflect a broader lack of priority for cancer care in recent years. The figures announced yesterday for October to December 2014 mark a full year of the waiting time target being missed.  Alongside this, other cancer targets have also been missed – the two-week waiting time target to be seen by a specialist if you have breast cancer and the target for 99% of people to wait six weeks or less for a diagnostic test.  Together, these may point to an institutional complacency emblematic of a system that thinks cancer has been ‘fixed’, and focus and attention can now move on.

Cancer is not fixed.  Not when 1 in 4 people continue to be diagnosed in A&E, meaning they will be twice as likely to die within a year.  Not when people are shown a lack of compassion and dignity, being spoken to by healthcare professionals as if they’re not there and not having their treatments explained to them.  Not when less than a third of people are able to remain at home towards the end of their life, due to lack of social care support.  And not when our cancer survival rates are languishing below the average in Europe.

Macmillan is pleased to be engaging with the process to develop a new cancer strategy for England and we welcome the leadership from government and NHS-England to address these issues, including Simon Stevens establishing a waiting list taskforce.

However, we also need all political parties to make a firm commitment in their General Election manifestos to bring our cancer outcomes in line with the European best.  This will ensure the next government delivers the urgent action needed to address the national disgrace of targets for cancer treatment being missed.

Ellie Rose

Macmillan Cancer Support – Public Affairs Manager

@MacmillanPA – parliament@macmillan.org.uk

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