True toll of NHS strikes: 36,000 cancer appointments cancelled by walkouts
- Junior doctors and consultants are striking together for the first time next week
- Labour’s shadow health secretary warns delays in cancer treatment costs lives
Around 36,000 cancer appointments have been cancelled due to strikes since NHS staff first walked out in December, alarming figures suggest.
Cancer charities described the disruption to care as ‘concerning’ and called for an urgent end to industrial action to protect ‘life-saving services’.
The new analysis comes as junior doctors and consultants plan to strike together for the first time next week, in what health leaders have called a ‘nightmare scenario’ and a ‘step too far’.
Labour sent Freedom of Information requests to NHS trusts asking how many cancer appointments had been cancelled ‘due to industrial action’ since December 1 last year.
Some 48 trusts responded, of which 35 provided full responses, totalling 9,310 cancellations.
Since Rishi Sunak took office, hundreds of thousands of cancer patients have waited longer than NHS targets for appointments, according to analysis by the House of Commons Library
Extrapolating the data across 137 English acute trusts gives an estimate of 36,442, the Party’s researchers said.
In July, the Government said junior doctors would get pay rises of 6 per cent, along with an additional consolidated £1,250 increase, and hospital consultants will also receive 6 per cent.
Health secretary Steve Barclay has described the deal as ‘final’ and refused to further negotiations with the British Medical Assocation over pay demands.
The government will today hold an NHS summit in Downing Street to prepare for this winter but it is understood junior doctor and consultant representatives have not been invited to attend.
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: ‘When it comes to cancer, delays cost lives.
Doctors demand that NHS stops hiring lower-ranking medics and for patients to be told when they are not being seen by fully-trained medic
Doctors today said that the health service is increasingly turning to physician associates because they are much quicker and cheaper to train. They warned that patients are often unaware that they are being seen by such staff, rather than a qualified doctor
‘From my own experience of kidney cancer, I know the importance of fast treatment. Ministers’ stubborn refusal to meet with NHS doctors is putting cancer patients at risk.
‘How can Rishi Sunak hold a summit to prepare for the winter crisis and forget to invite junior doctors and consultants.
‘They are the people he most urgently needs to get around the table, to bring an end to these strikes.
‘There were no national strikes in the NHS during 13 years of the last Labour government.
‘If Rishi Sunak has given up on governing, he should call an election so Labour can restore the NHS to good health.’
Since Rishi Sunak took office, hundreds of thousands of cancer patients have waited longer than NHS targets for appointments, according to analysis by the House of Commons Library.
From October 2022 to June 2023, 418,000 patients waited longer than the targeted two weeks to have their first consultant appointment about a suspected cancer.
No cancer waiting time standards were met in the figures for June 2023, and most targets have not been regularly met since before the pandemic.
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, which represents trusts, said: ‘The longer these strikes continue, the greater the impact on patients and the NHS long term.
‘Nearly one million appointments have had to be pushed back due to industrial action since December.
‘Figures now show this includes around 36,000 patients who have had to wait longer than they should for a cancer appointment.
‘Trust leaders are desperate to focus on their number one priority – patient care – but industrial action is hampering their hard efforts to bear down on backlogs.
‘They understand why many staff feel pushed to walk out, but the escalating effect on patients and the health service comes at a high price.
‘Instead of constructive dialogue between government and unions, further disruption looms.
‘Next week, consultants and junior doctors are set to strike back-to-back across four days, including one day of joint action for the first time in NHS history.
Every hospital across the country is expected to hit ten separate cancer time targets, centered around seeing suspected patients, catching their disease quickly and starting their treatment. But only one — Calderdale and Huddersfield — has managed to hit the biggest four so far in 2023, our investigation found. These are: Two Week Wait From GP Urgent Referral to First Consultant Appointment (top left); One Month Wait from a Decision to Treat to a First Treatment for Cancer (bottom left); Four Week (28 days) Wait From Urgent Referral to Patient Told they have Cancer, or Cancer is Definitively Excluded (top right; and Two Month Wait from GP Urgent Referral to a First Treatment for Cancer (bottom right)
‘Worryingly, their second coordinated strike next month will now also overlap with radiographers for a day – the first time all three groups will walk out together.
‘With another tough winter for the NHS on the horizon, resolving the ongoing pay dispute between the government and unions must be paramount.’
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Cancer patients rely on the dedicated work of NHS staff, and it’s concerning that industrial action in England is causing disruption to their care.
‘We urge all parties to work together to quickly reach an agreement and ensure that people affected by cancer don’t miss out on life-saving services.
‘If this can’t be reached, hospitals must ensure that risk to cancer patients’ disease progression is the overriding concern when protecting critical services.
‘The reality is that delays for vital cancer diagnosis and treatment existed long before industrial action begun.
‘Record high NHS waiting lists are a result of years of underinvestment by the UK Government.
‘Despite the best efforts of NHS staff, cancer waiting time targets continue to be missed month on month in England.
‘These unacceptable waits can be turned around with strong political leadership.
‘We urge the UK Government to set out a clear strategy to transform cancer outcomes that is backed by long-term funding.’
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