‘System can’t cope with chronic understaffing’ says charity as cancer treatment times worsen

The healthcare system is struggling to cope with demand of cancer patients waiting for treatment, one charity has warned.

Cancer Research UK responded to figures showing that waiting times for cancer treatment in Wales are the third worst on record.

The latest NHS Wales waiting times data shows that in November 2023 just 53.5% of cancer patients started their treatment within 62 days of being suspected of having cancer.

The target of 75% has never been met since the Suspected Cancer Improvement Pathway was introduced in 2019.

Cancer Research UK’s Public Affairs Manager in Wales Simon Scheeres said: “Waiting to start cancer treatment is an incredibly worrying time for patients and their families. Long days and sleepless nights add to the anxiety of suspecting you have a disease that could progress while left untreated.

“NHS staff are working incredibly hard, but years of chronic workforce shortages and a lack of specialist facilities means the system can’t cope.”

The NHS is implementing a Cancer Improvement Plan which aims to improve patient outcomes, prevent and detect cancer earlier, and reduce waiting times.

Mr Scheeres said: “It is vital that the Welsh Government ensures that these actions are well resourced and implemented at pace.”

The figures show variation across Wales, with some health boards performing better than others. Hywel Dda health board had the lowest percentage of patients starting their first treatment within 62 days in November with just 40.5%

Betsi Cadwaladr had the highest with 57.7%

A spokesperson from the Welsh Government said: “Access to cancer treatment is a priority and clinical teams and managers across the NHS in Wales are working hard to improve cancer performances.

“We are investing heavily in cancer services to improve diagnosis and access to high-quality care and have also launched a national intervention to support recovery in waiting times for cancers with the lowest performance figures.”

Overall hospital waiting times in Wales dropped after rising to record levels over the previous eight months.

In response to NHS Wales’s performance figures , Health Minister Eluned Morgan said that the NHS in Wales had “coped relatively well under difficult circumstances […] But there is much more to be done, and we will continue to work with health boards to tackle the longest waits”.