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The NHS and delayed cancer treatment

It was recently widely reported that The Care Quality Commission has found “inaccuracies” in the cancer waiting times recorded at Colchester Hospital and that the Hospital felt “pressured or bullied” into changing this data to ensure it was in-line with National Guidelines.  But, if this is proven to be the case, why do NHS Trusts feel such pressure to change such data and why are waiting times for treatment so long when the treatment is so important


The NHS states that once a patient is urgently referred by their GP for suspected cancer they should be seen by a specialist at the hospital within 14 days.  In cases where the diagnosis of cancer is confirmed and a decision to treat is made, by whatever means that may be, the NHS states that the patient should begin receiving that treatment within 31 days.  But are these time frames regularly met by the NHS in England?

It is reported on the NHS Choices website that between 2010-2011 over 95% of patients who were urgently referred for suspected cancer were seen by a specialist within 2 weeks of the referral [1].  In the same period, they state that over 98% of patients receiving their first treatment for cancer began their treatment within 31 days.

But what about the other 5% of patients who aren’t seen within 14 days of being referred, and the 2% of people who don’t receive treatment by the NHS within 31 days?  With the amount of people who are now sadly being diagnosed with cancer every day, those figures could amount to a surprising amount of people who are not receiving the treatment they need to overcome their diagnosis or improve their quality of life.

It has been reported that at Colchester Hospital the dates of when patients were referred to the hospital were changed which meant that the Trust looked like it kept to the cancer pathway deadline when this may not actually have been the case. It raises the question whether other statistics  provided by the NHS are also really that reliable.


Obviously, if data is changed by the NHS in the way that it is suggested Colchester Hospital changed waiting times recorded, there is a high likelihood patients receive treatment later than they should be.  This in turn could impact on prognosis for patients and may worryingly put their lives at unnecessary risk.

Unfortunately, our experience of the effects upon patients of delayed cancer treatment is that such delays can lead to a worse outcome for the patient.  As a result of delays, whether delays in diagnosis or delays in receiving treatment, our clients have acquired the need for more extensive treatment and, in some circumstances, have suffered a worse prognosis where their life expectancy has been reduced.  In cases we have acted in the evidence is that if our clients had been diagnosed and treated more promptly they would likely have required less extensive treatment and would have had a better outcome.

One example of a case we have acted in was for the family of an NHS patient who died following a delay in treating skin cancer.  Compensation of £400,000 was secured for the family after the investigations into the case proved that she would not have died had treatment been provided earlier.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you are concerned that there may have been a delayed diagnosis, or a delay in the treatment being provided, then please speak to one of our specialist clinical negligence solicitors for further advice.  Compensation for any medical negligence claim will not alter the treatment or dis-service you may have been given previously, but it could go someway to ensuring that you undergo the specialist treatment you require in the future and compensating you for other losses.

[1] NHS Choices – Cancer

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