Coronavirus severely impacting NHS cancer services

Latest figures published by NHS England reveal that only 69.9% of patients are meeting the 62-day cancer waiting time targets, raising concerns over the impact of potential delays in diagnosis and treatment and scope for cancer misdiagnosis claims. This falls significantly short of the target of 85%.

There are multiple cancer waiting time targets set by the NHS in England, one of which is a 62-day waiting time. This means that patients should wait no more than 62 days from the initial urgent GP referral for suspected cancer through to the first definitive treatment for the cancer. The current target by the NHS is that 85% of patients should meet this timescale.

The latest published data for the period to May 2020 show that only 69.9% were being treated for cancer within the 62-day timescale, a fall from 74.3% in April 2020 and raises concerns over the impact on patient care and the potential for delayed diagnosis claims as a result. In addition, the data shows an even greater fall in the percentage of patients meeting the target when compared to the previous year whereby 77.5% of patients were treated within the timescale in May 2019. The last time the target of 85% was met or exceeded was back in May 2018.

Understandably the current coronavirus pandemic has no doubt impacted the NHS capacity to run its services with our previous article showing that approximately 200,000 people per week were missing out on cancer screenings. As resources needed to be dedicated to dealing with those affected by coronavirus many routine cancer screenings were cancelled and individuals were perhaps less likely to visit their GP or attend an appointment. However, as the pandemic has continued to linger, and latest reports cite the potential for a second wave during the colder winter months it may be that there continues to be a negative impact on the 62-day cancer target. The increased time from initial cancer diagnosis to treatment can have severe consequences on patients and their family, including more invasive treatment, longer stays in hospital and in the worst cases lead to the cancer spreading rapidly. It can be argued that there may be an increase in delayed diagnosis compensation for those families who have suffered as a result.

For more information on the current NHS targets and to see how an individual NHS Trust is performing please refer to our NHS performance tracker here.

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