Patients Put At Risk By Cancer Care Delays

More than half of all cancer patients are having to wait longer than the Government says is acceptable for life-saving radiotherapy treatment, it was disclosed last night.

There is also a huge disparity in the provision of radiotherapy services across the country, with “black holes” where treatment is very poor, a report by an NHS advisory group is said to show.

The study, by the National Radiotherapy Advisory Group, is being looked at by ministers, but it has not yet been published. It has reportedly found that half of all cancer patients are waiting longer than the Government’s “maximum acceptable delay” of four weeks for the treatment.

Last night, a Department of Health spokesman refused to discuss the report’s contents. He said the report was with ministers and no decision had been taken on publishing it.

But Professor Karol Sikora, a leading cancer specialist, told The Times that the report should provoke “an outcry for better provision” of the treatment. Its findings apparently mirror those of an audit of radiotherapy waiting times by the Royal College of Radiologists in 2005, which also found that more than half of patients were waiting more than four weeks for treatment.

These times had actually increased since 1997, when Labour came to power, the audit found. It concluded that it was “imperative” radiotherapy waiting times be reduced to maximise the chances of cancer patients being cured.