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Medical Negligence

Staff shortages ‘lead to delayed cancer diagnosis for many’

Estimated read time: 3 mins

Carrie Tennick, September 02, 2019

Around 115,000 cancer patients in England are diagnosed too late to give them the best chance of survival, according to a new study by Cancer Research.

The organisation has pointed to workforce shortages as a major contributor. Cancer Research UK said the country is currently facing a “desperate shortage of NHS medical staff trained to carry out tests that diagnose cancer”.

It means that nearly half of all cancers are diagnosed at stage 3 or 4 – with 67,000 people diagnosed at stage 4. This leaves patients with fewer options for treatment and, therefore, less chance of surviving.

Government pledge for more early diagnosis

In 2018, the government pledged to improve the number of people diagnosed with early stage cancer. It said it wanted to see a jump from two in four patients diagnosed early to three in four by 2028. This could save thousands of lives.

Cancer Research UK said it has calculated that to reach this target, an extra 100,000 patients must be diagnosed early every year by 2028.

The organisation said that despite NHS staff “working tirelessly” to provide the best cancer care, there just aren’t enough of the right members of staff available. It added that there are no plans to significantly increase the numbers that would be necessary to transform healthcare.

Other factors leading to delayed diagnosis include symptoms being difficult to spot, GPs not having enough time to investigate people thoroughly, low uptake of screening programmes and cancer being at an advanced stage when detected.

Early diagnosis key to survival

The researchers explained that an earlier diagnosis can mean “the difference between life and death”. For example, if bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than nine in 10 sufferers will survive. But if it is diagnosed at the latest stage, just one in 10 will survive for more than five years.

According to research commissioned by Cancer Research UK, it is estimated that by 2027, the NHS will need:

  • An additional 1,700 radiologists
  • To nearly triple its number of oncologists
  • Nearly 2,000 additional therapeutic radiographers

More staff needed ‘urgently’

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: “More referrals to hospital means we urgently need more staff. The government’s inaction on staff shortages is crippling the NHS, failing cancer patients and the doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly to diagnose and treat them.

“By 2035, one person every minute will be diagnosed with cancer but there’s no plan to increase the number of NHS staff to cope with demand now or the growing numbers in the future. Saving lives from cancer needs to be top of the agenda for the new government and it must commit to investing in vital NHS staff now to ensure no one dies from cancer unnecessarily.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said that cancer is “a priority” for the government. It highlighted that it has committed to detecting three-quarters of all cancers at an early stage by 2028.

According to the department, since 2017, there have been over 900 more diagnostic radiographers joining the NHS, while the £33.9 billion it is investing in the NHS every year “will ensure we can support the health service with the staff it needs for the future”.

If you have suffered from delayed cancer diagnosis, First4Lawyers can help. We can put you in touch with one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors, who can help you make a claim for compensation, helping you to get the justice you deserve for your suffering.

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