A recent report has revealed that the NHS has missed its targets for cancer treatment referrals again, for the third year in a row. This failure in the system not only puts patients into an “appalling state of limbo”, but also leaves patients at risk of their quickly-developing tumors not being dealt with quickly enough. While cancer-survival rates are the highest they have ever been, meeting targets for current patient care is crucial for providing an experience that is as smooth as possible for those who have been diagnosed or referred.
What are the Targets?
The NHS has set a target for 85% of cancer patients to be starting treatment within 62 days of receiving a referral from their GP. However, when contact with a cancer specialist took more than 14 days for over 100,000 patients last year, this 62-day target becomes hard to meet.
Waiting for Treatment
There are a number of downsides in waiting for treatment for patients, not least of which is that for cancer patients prompt diagnosis and treatment can be a matter of life or death. During the time that patients are waiting, they are often struggling to cope with their diagnosis, or may be worried about scans and tests that need to be undertaken. Many people feel very frightened.
Reducing patient anxiety and fear is a major factor behind the NHS’s targets, with a 2010 review also finding that “shorter waiting times can lead to earlier diagnosis, quicker treatment, a lower risk of complications, an enhanced patient experience and improved cancer outcomes.”
A representative from Patient Claim Line, a medical negligence law firm dealing with claims from those who have received sub-par medical treatment, notes that “cancer is one of the hardest things that most people face and waiting longer than they need for treatment can cause undue distress. This is an unfair burden upon people with cancer and their families at one of their most vulnerable times.”
Why Do Patients Wait?
It’s important to note that not all patients are waiting because of systemic delays. Some patients choose to delay their treatment for personal reasons, and others are inappropriate candidates for treatment. Other patients should receive treatment, but should not follow the standard treatment path for reasons related to their particular condition or health outcomes.
It’s not all bad news for the NHS, however, with most of their treatment waiting time targets being easily met. For example, the rate of follow-up within the two week wait for all cancers was 94.1%, with the NHS’s target set at 93%. In addition, the one-month diagnosis to first treatment wait for all cancers was targeted at 96%, with 97.6% of all patients meeting the target.
How Can Patients Get Help?
Despite the continuing failure of the NHS to meet one of its core targets for cancer treatment, there is help for patients who are seeking support throughout this process. The MacMillan Foundation campaigns for cancer care standards, provides a free support line, and provides the assistance of MacMillan nurses, who have “completed specialist courses in pain and symptom management, and psychological support”.
With a further push from the NHS, next will hopefully be the year that all targets are met, so that all cancer patients can receive the prompt and thorough care that they deserve.