Patients wait for cancer treatment in the United Kingdom

A joint Commission for Health Improvement/Audit Commission reports that the care of British cancer patients has improved since 1995. Survival rates for most cancers are improving, and there are more specialist cancer surgeons. But how long patients wait to get treatment varies according to where they live and the type of cancer they have.

Among the key findings:

  • Almost all patients (92 percent) who are referred by their General Practitioner (GP) to a specialist as an urgent case are seen within two weeks.

  • But people referred as non-urgent (50 percent of cancer patients) can wait much longer for an appointment and GPs vary widely in how many cases they refer as urgent.

  • There is wide variation by geography and type of cancer in how long patients have to wait for diagnostic tests.

  • There were particularly long waits for diagnostic bladder endoscopy, for which the average wait was 88 days in England.

    Delays in receiving treatment are often caused by a lack of equipment or poor use of equipment, says the report. For instance, there is a five-fold variation in the number of patients per MRI or CT scanner between hospitals. Some hospitals scan more patients with one MRI machine than others do with three or four. Finally, communication between cancer specialists and GPs is often poor, with GPs missing out on key information about their patients. This hampers GPs' ability to discuss diagnosis and prognosis with their patients.

    Source: NHS Cancer Care in England and Wales, National Service Framework Assessment No. 1, Commission for Health Improvement/Audit Commission, December 2001.

    For report text
    For more on Rationing Care

    FMF Policy Bulletin\19 December 2001
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