If there is one area where inequality of access and rationing will lead to more fear than any other it is in the treatment of cancer. This can be either palliative or curative, but in either case, along with delays in diagnosis (by imaging waiting lists) and treatments as above, there is a real risk of anger in the population. It is also wrong of any party to try to blame the other. This situation is the result of decades of neglect, undercapacity in staff, worn out plant, and out of date philosophy (everythig for everyone for ever). YOU could die on the waiting list.. The good news is that “Cancer no longer a death sentence as half of victims survive a decade“.. So we must be doing something right. It’s just that there is a system being covertly rationed – if it is to be rationed then we all have a right to know how, and to be treated equally.
Cancer patients are being made to wait longer before starting treatment, official figures show.
The health watchdog Monitor has found that an increasing number of foundation trusts are failing to begin treating people with cancer within 62 days of their being referred by a GP.
In the latest quarter, 26 trusts failed to meet a target of diagnosing cancer and treating 85 per cent of patients within two months, compared with 16 in the same period last year. In part, hospitals are struggling to meet the targets owing to a 3 per cent increase in referrals, linked to public awareness campaigns. The Midlands performed worst on cancer waiting times, while London hospitals performed best.
Finances are also suffering at many of the country’s 147 trusts, with the average financial surplus being one third of the size of last year. The number of trusts in deficit has doubled to 40 since last year, with the combined value of deficits running at £307 million.
Jason Dorsett, finance and reporting director at Monitor, said: “The majority of patients attending foundation trusts are receiving quality services in very difficult financial circumstances. Times are tough and hard decisions will have to be made to ensure patients continue to get the services they need at an affordable cost to the taxpayer.”
Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund think-tank, described the worsening of waiting times for cancer patients as “grim” and the overall finances of hospitals as “quite scary”. He added: “You really shouldn’t delay treatments for some cancers and the anxiety for patients is enormous.”
The report noted that many foundation trusts increased staffing after the Stafford Hospital scandal, making it harder to balance the books. Overall, staff numbers had increased by 24,000 (4 per cent) since last year.
A Department of Health official said that NHS staff would look into the causes of dips in performance on cancer waiting times, and added that trust chief executives needed to keep a tight grip on their finances. “The Government has made tough decisions on the economy but at the same time we have increased the NHS budget in real terms,” the official said.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said: “David Cameron has to accept responsibility for this serious deterioration in the performance of the NHS.”
The report also found that trusts narrowly missed an A&E target as 94.7 per cent of patients were seen within four hours, below the required 95 per cent.
Update 25th May 2014: Letter in The Sunday Times from Prof. Andrew Jones
Give radiotherapy the cancer funds it needs
YOUR campaign to improve access to innovative radiotherapy is vital and could be addressed by broadening the £200m annual Cancer Drugs Fund. Despite a highly effective £25m, one-off investment in 2012-13, supporting a growth in delivery of the most advanced forms of radiotherapy across England, there is no regular investment for radiotherapy equivalent to the Cancer Drugs Fund.
This stark contrast in funding for new developments is worthy of public debate to ensure innovative radiotherapy techniques continue to be exploited.
The King’s Fund 2011 report How to Improve Cancer Survival: Explaining England’s Relatively Poor Rates states: “It is more important to improve access to surgery and radiotherapy than access to cancer drugs … this suggests that the contribution of the Cancer Drugs Fund to improving overall outcomes will be very limited.” Nevertheless, the Cancer Drugs Fund continues to have strong political support and has been extended to 2016.
This fund should be increased by about £50m a year to provide improved access to innovative radiotherapy techniques and the effective training of the workforce.
This would produce a significant boost to the most cost-effective cancer treatment available for patients.
Professor Andrew Jones, President, the British Institute of Radiology