Recent statistics regarding patient care throughout the NHS have caused widespread concern among numerous agencies and advocacy groups. Recently, figures showed that more than 102,000 individuals had to wait more than two weeks to see a cancer care specialist after their GP referred them. The maximum time from referral for a patient who has suspected cancer is 14 days, and the government aims to meet a 93% target for meeting this timeframe. Unfortunately, 25 out of 157 NHS trusts failed to reach this important threshold, and numbers are down since the 2011/2012 statistics. Exceeding this limit puts patients in an unnecessary state of anxiety and ultimately, puts their health at risk.

When a GP determines that a patient may be suspected of having cancer, seeing a specialist quickly is necessary so that patients may receive the appropriate testing, diagnosis, and recommended course of treatment. Moving past the two-week target delays these critical components of cancer care, and patients and their loved ones are left not knowing what lies ahead. In addition to failing to meet targets to specialist care, the Cancer Research UK organisation found that the target for treating cancer patients has also been missed. Beginning a suggested treatment plan is supposed to take place within 62 days after an urgent referral from a patient’s GP, but currently, that target is at its worst level. Instead of meeting the 85% threshold for treating cancer patients, only 79.9% of individuals actually do so, representing a missed mark by the NHS for the last three years running. More than 2,000 patients waited more than two months to begin treatment, while another 500 waited more than three months.

Growing Pressure on the NHS

The shocking statistics highlighting longer wait times for cancer specialist visits and subsequent treatment are a clear sign of undue pressure placed on NHS. Part of the problem is the chronic understaffing of hospitals and specialist offices that can be correlated to a growing patient population. As more individuals lean on the NHS for healthcare services, added medical staff should be a priority for the organisation. However, the cost burdens placed on the system thanks to extended hours and expanded services make the influx of new medical personnel a challenge. Prolonged wait times are the result.

According to a team of medical negligence lawyers who handle cases involving cancer misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis, this is often the most challenging battle a patient can face in his or her lifetime, and waiting longer than necessary to get clear answers on their diagnosis and the course of treatment only adds to the stress. Overwhelming feelings of fear and frustration can make individuals more unhealthy at a time when they are most vulnerable, and these emotions do not fade until there are concrete answers from a cancer specialist.

Focusing on a Fix

In response to the lagging wait times cancer and potential cancer patients endure, the government has promised to correct the issues that cause extended waiting periods by the year 2020. A definitive diagnosis should be provided or an all-clear given to the patient within 28 days, and the NHS is piloting a program that would help work toward this target in five areas starting in 2017. Meanwhile, individuals who have been given a referral from their GP to visit a cancer specialist, or already have a diagnosis of cancer may need to seek out support. There are several organisations that provide resources for common stressors associated with receiving a cancer diagnosis and beginning treatment, including financial, emotional, and community help. A diagnosis of cancer is a frightening experience, but with the help of family members, medical teams, and support organisations, patients and their loved ones can feel confident in receiving the care they need.

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