Long NHS Wales wait leads to lower cancer detection, says leading charity

Waiting times in Wales ranked as the second worst in the UK, leading to delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Every year, approximately 19,500 people in Wales are diagnosed with cancer, and delays in early detection can be life-threatening.

Nearly half of people in deprived areas in Wales are skipping GP visits for potential cancer symptoms, according to a recent report from a leading cancer charity.

Cancer Research UK has found that securing a timely GP appointment has become a significant challenge with NHS waiting lists in Wales reaching crisis levels.

“Early diagnosis saves lives. We know that when we find cancer before it’s spread or before it becomes bigger, there are more treatment options and a higher chance of those treatment options being more successful”, said Simon Sheeres the public affairs manager for Cancer Research UK in Wales.

Cancer treatment performance in all Local Health Boards in Wales fell below the target level of 75%.
Source: Suspected Cancer Pathway, Digital Health and Care Wales (DHCW)

The Cancer Research UK study surveyed over 4,000 people, including 160 from Wales’ most deprived areas. The most common reason (19%) for not visiting a GP was difficulty securing an appointment. 

Other reasons included reluctance to discuss symptoms with a receptionist (15%), fear of appearing overly concerned (14%), and concerns about symptoms being dismissed (14%). The charity has launched its Spot Cancer Early awareness campaign in Wales to help people feel more confident seeking help.

Cancer waiting times are ranked as the second worst in the country according to the latest data from the Welsh government, worsening delays in diagnosis and treatment.

“The delays are not just frustrating; they’re potentially life-threatening. I’ve been experiencing symptoms that raised concerns about cancer. Waiting for an appointment and then waiting for test results took over three months for me,” says 47-year-old Jonas Farrier from Swansea. 

While cancer is generally more prevalent in those above 50 years of age, it’s increasingly concerning younger people as well. Emily, a 28-year-old from Newport said, “I discovered a lump in my breast and immediately contacted my GP, but was told the earliest available appointment was in four weeks. It feels like the system is failing us just when we need it most.”

February 2024 was ranked as the second-lowest rate of cancer patient treatment on record in Wales.

Health Secretary Eluned Morgan said progress has been made in reducing the longest treatment waits, with 97% of patients in six out of seven Welsh health board areas waiting less than two years. However, this figure remains significantly higher than in England.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government stated, “We urge anyone worried about cancer symptoms to contact their GP immediately, as early detection can be crucial.” They also highlighted a record increase in referrals for cancer diagnosis, which have risen by half in the past three years.

For more information on cancer screening, visit Cancer Research UK’s screening page.

Visit the NHS website to learn more about possible cancer symptoms here.