More than half of cancer patients needing radiotherapy to treat the disease are waiting longer than the recommended four weeks to get it.
The findings are published in a report today by the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), which says that the delays can allow tumours to grow, and affect some patients’ chances of recovery. It branded current waiting times ‘unacceptable’.
The RCR’s latest UK-wide audit of waiting times, for 2005, found that delays are ‘substantially worse’ than those in 1997, when it began tracking them. Last year’s results showed that some centres treated all their patients within the target time, while others failed to meet it for any of their patients.
Dr Michael Williams, who led the audit team, said:’This audit shows that over half of all patients receiving curative radiotherapy wait longer than the recommended maximum of four weeks from the date of decision to treat. The college believes that prompt treatment is essential for all patients as there is good evidence that delay allows tumours to grow, which may worsen outcomes.’
The RCR’s audit in 1997 found that 28 per cent of patients waited longer than the four-week target. This rose to 70 per cent when the audit was repeated in 2003. The latest audit set the figure at 53 per cent.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the audit showed that waiting times were improving. However, it was taking ‘wide-ranging action’ to tackle any delays.
He added:’Radiotherapy staffing levels are increasing, we are installing new radiotherapy treatment facilities and streamlining care for patients.