Half of cancer patients in Wales left experiencing treatment delays
Almost half of cancer patients in Wales are experiencing delays in starting their potentially lifesaving treatment.
During April just 55.3 per cent of patients received their treatment on time – meaning 682 people with cancer were left facing heartbreaking delays to their care.
According to the most recent figures, performance against the 62-day target in Wales was also worse than in the same month last year.
There are also discrepancies between some forms of cancers, with only a third of people with gynaecological cancer receiving their treatment within the 62-day target timeframe.
Macmillan Cancer Support is now warning that performance has fallen woefully short of a crucial interim Welsh Government recovery target of treating 70 per cent of people with cancer on time by March 2023.
This, the charity argues, casts significant doubt on its ability to deliver its promise of treating 80 per cent of people on time by 2026.
Macmillan says that the failure of the Welsh and wider UK governments to address urgent failings in cancer care – which include chronic staff shortages and a lack of government funding – are having a significant impact on people’s lives.
Additional new research from the charity suggests thousands of people in Wales would be in a better position with their cancer had it not been for the long waits and delays seen over the past 10 years.
The stark figures show that one in seven people with cancer in Wales diagnosed in the past decade who have experienced long waits for NHS cancer care said they believe their cancer had got worse as a result.
This includes those whose cancer has spread or is now incurable, and those who have fewer treatment options, such as surgery no longer being possible.
Macmillan warns that those delays are having an ever-growing human cost on the people faced with delays and disruptions in their care.
Julie from Lampeter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 and waited well over 100 days for urgent treatment to begin.
She said: “The reality is that cancer knocks you over, then the current cancer care system just doesn’t give you a chance to get your feet back under you.
“I’ve had constant panic and anxiety from one appointment to the next, and felt I lost a lot of control – not only to my cancer diagnosis, but to a cancer care system that is confusing, disjointed and which often fails to treat you as a person.
“Every stage was draining. Delayed test results needed chasing. Delayed diary dates for the next appointment needed chasing. There were cancelled consultations, or consultations where the wrong people turned up at the wrong time to talk to me about the wrong procedure.
“There were hours of driving from rural west Wales and braving hospital parking only to find out the appointment wasn’t what you thought it would be or needed.
“It makes it all such an anxiety building, heart-breaking process of constant ups and downs when all you want is for someone to talk to you clearly, concisely and tell you what is going to happen next. From day one I felt that I was forced to project manage my own cancer journey.
“The problem is that everyone is just so lovely, so fantastic – but those dedicated nurses and doctors just don’t seem to be supported to do their job by the system itself.
“I’m the sort of person who doesn’t just accept things, who likes to feel in control, and luckily I had the confidence to champion my own care. I dread to think what it would have been like if I hadn’t. That is why I am speaking up now, to help others in a similar position. It’s well beyond time that governments in the UK began to listen.”
The charity has also been hearing from NHS cancer professionals who have been going above and beyond to care for patients.
It hears how they are being left to face an impossible challenge, without the numbers of staff or resources they need to provide quality care as quickly as they need to.
Macmillan Clinical Adviser, GP Elise Lang said: “Delays are physically and emotionally draining, and they feel inhumane, leaving people anxious over potential cancer diagnoses and waits for treatment to begin.
“The situation in the NHS is exhausting. In primary care it has become a desperate struggle to try to work through the existing patient lists in front of us, while knowing that there’s an ever-growing number of patients still needing to be seen – some of whom will have symptoms that could be cancer.”
Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales said: “Anyone who has faced the fear of a worsening outcome because of delays in their cancer care will know just how devastating that can be.
“When talking about targets, it is vitally important to remember that for the people affected, and their loved ones, every single day of waiting feels like a day too many.
“In Wales, people with cancer now consistently face weeks and months of such anxious delays, and it’s time to acknowledge that the system designed to care for them is truly in crisis.
“The Welsh Government has promised that at least 80 per cent of people with cancer will start their treatment on time by 2026.
“A first interim targets in that process – needing to treat 70% of people with cancer on time by March 2023 – has not only been and gone, but as today’s figures show, performance continues to fall woefully short. That leaves the Welsh Government’s core ambition for cancer care feeling less and less achievable.
“But this remains a crisis that can be turned around, and that is why we are calling for urgent action as the changes needed will not happen by accident.”
“For anyone worried about delays to their treatment, Macmillan’s free Support Line can help, whether you have questions about cancer or just need a listening ear.”
Macmillan’s ‘What Are We Waiting For?’ campaign is now urging politicians to take urgent action to address this critical situation, highlighting that waiting times targets can be met if hospital trusts and health boards across the UK have the right resources. Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com