January 12, 2006

UK cancer patients “wait too long” for treatment

LONDON (Reuters) - Many British patients suffering from
cancer are waiting too long before being seen by a specialist,
although referral times have improved over the last five years,
a House of Commons committee said on Thursday.

Around 40 percent of people ultimately diagnosed with
cancer were not referred urgently and were not seen by a
specialist within two weeks of referral in 2004, the Public
Accounts Committee said in a report.

"Cancer patients are being looked after better than they
were five years ago and generally well," said the committee's
chairman Edward Leigh.

"But the experience of cancer sufferers is not as good as
it could be. Too many are waiting too long to see a specialist
following referral by a GP."

More than a quarter of bowel cancer patients had to wait
more than a month in 2004 to see a specialist after being
referred by their family doctor, during which time around 30
percent said their condition had deteriorated.

In the same year just 32 percent of prostate cancer
patients were seen within two weeks, compared to 70 percent of
patients with breast cancer, an inequality Leigh said was

The government has since committed itself to "demonstrably
large improvements" in prostate cancer care, the committee

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said cancer death rates had
fallen by 14 percent since 1996 but accepted more could be done
to help cancer sufferers.

"Patients are seeing the benefits of more staff, more
modern equipment such as scanners to detect cancer, shorter
waiting times to see a specialist and increased access to the
latest drugs," she said.

"The report also recognises that there is more work to be
done. We acknowledge this and have put actions in place to
maintain the momentum of improvement."