Almost 35,000 more patients a month are waiting longer than two weeks for a cancer hospital appointment since the Conservatives came to power, according to Labour.
Compared to when they were last in government in 2010, Labour said that close to 420,000 extra people this year will wait more than two weeks for a follow-up after having been told by their GP that they might have cancer. The longer waits cannot be blamed on Covid pandemic backlogs, the party said.
Party officials said that when Labour left office in May 2010 some 3,135 patients had been waiting to see a hospital cancer specialist for more than a fortnight, citing figures supplied by the House of Commons Library. By January 2020, two months before coronavirus restrictions were put in place, 19,035 had been waiting that long – a six-fold increase.
The party said it recognised that the number of referrals for suspected cancer has gone up in the past 13 years. However, it said Commons Library data provided to Labour showed that the proportion of patients who are seen within two weeks has fallen for every type of cancer compared with 2010.
Commons Library analysis indicates that in 2010/11, 95.5 per cent of all suspected cancer patients received a follow-up appointment within two weeks. That fell to 79.4 per cent in 2022/23. Labour said delays to treatment starts were also worsening even before the pandemic.
In May 2010, NHS England figures stated that 996 people had been waiting more than two months to start their cancer treatment. That figure more than tripled to 3,316 before the pandemic in February 2020. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said his mission to fix the NHS includes cutting cancer waiting times.
His party’s plan includes training 7,500 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses a year, paid for by abolishing non-dom tax status, using spare capacity in the private sector to bring down the NHS backlog and reforming the NHS to shift its focus to early diagnosis and intervention. Labour has said its proposals are designed to ensure that 75 per cent of all cancer is diagnosed at stage one or two.
Shadow health minister Karin Smyth said: “After 13 years of Tory Government cancer care is in crisis. The Tories have left too many cancer patients waiting too long for a diagnosis, specialist appointments, and to begin their treatment. When it comes to cancer, delays cost lives.
“A Labour government will improve cancer survival rates by hitting all NHS cancer waiting time and early diagnosis targets within five years.”
The Conservative Party suggested that Labour’s opposition to the Government’s plan, as first announced in the Budget, to scrap the lifetime pensions allowance would cause more doctors to retire early.
A Tory spokesman said: “Patients in Labour-run Wales have to wait seven weeks longer for treatment than in England. If Labour want to cut waiting lists, they should back our plan to get more doctors into the NHS. Instead they are choosing to send doctors into an early retirement.
“The Conservatives are cutting NHS waiting lists so people get the care they need, including by recruiting a record number of doctors and nurses, and investing an extra £45.6 billion into health and social care.”