Government 25% below cancer treatment target as charity says 20,000 deaths a year avoidable

29 Nov 2023

EMBARGO: Immediate Release 

  • Government has fallen nearly 25% below its cancer treatment target of people starting treatment within 62-days

  • Number of patients not starting treatment within 62-days has spiked by 6% in just three months

  • The Liberal Democrats are calling for a legal right for cancer patients to start their treatment within the 62-days

  • It comes as Cancer Research UK has said that at least 20,000 cancer deaths per year are avoidable

The latest NHS data has revealed that just 61.3% of cancer patients are starting treatment within 62-days. The government’s target is 85%, which has not been met since 2015. 

The number of patients not beginning their treatment within 62-days has risen by nearly 1,000 to 17,166, up from 16,168 in the first quarter of the year. That represents a spike of over 6% of patients not starting their treatment within that time frame in just three months.

It comes as Cancer Research UK has said that at least 20,000 cancer deaths a year could be avoided in the UK with further action and the charity also said that the UK lags behind comparable countries for survival. 

The Liberal Democrats have set out proposals to invest an extra £4 billion in NHS cancer treatment over the next five years to deliver this plan and improve survival rates by the end of the next Parliament. 

This plan includes a legal right to be given to all cancer patients to ensure they begin treatment within the 62-days, passing a Cancer Survival Act to ensure funding for research into the cancers with the lowest survival rates, and halting the closure of the National Cancer Research Institute.

Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care spokesperson, Daisy Cooper MP said:

“Cancer patients need to be seen as quickly as possible to give them the best chance of survival but the government’s failure to meet this target is putting people’s lives at risk. 

“At every turn the Conservatives have pushed the NHS further into crisis: they’ve failed to recruit enough GPs, failed to recruit the cancer workforce we need and failed to ensure that everyone has access to the treatment they need. 

“Every cancer patient deserves a legal right to start their treatment within 62 days so they have the best shot at recovery and survival.” 


Notes to Editors:

The NHS cancer treatment data can be found here and here.

BBC’s reporting of the Cancer Research UK finding can be found here

Liberal Democrat Five-Year Cancer Plan

Two-month cancer treatment guarantee. A new target for 100% of patients to start treatment for cancer within 62 days from urgent referral, with this right written into law. Currently this is only a government pledge, and 40% of patients wait longer than 62 days.

Boost access to radiotherapy. Replace ageing radiotherapy machines and increase their number, as well as widening access so that no one has to travel too far for treatment.

Halve the time for new treatments to reach patients. It takes an average of 11 months for a new medicine or medical technology to be approved and available to patients in England, compared to just 4 months in Germany. We will expand the MHRA’s capacity to speed up that process.

Pass a Cancer Survival Research Act. New legislation modelled on the US law signed by President Obama in 2013. It would require the Government to coordinate and ensure funding for research into the cancers with the lowest survival rates, including lung, liver, brain and pancreatic cancer.

Save the National Cancer Research Institute. The Government is presiding over the closure of the National Cancer Research Institute, which was established in 2001 and plays a vital role in coordinating cancer research, due to uncertainty over research funding. Its closure has been described by one oncology professor as like “turning off air traffic control and hoping the planes will be fine”.

Improve support for patients and their families. Recruit more cancer nurses so that every patient has a dedicated specialist supporting them throughout their treatment. Ensure patients and their families are given information about charities, patient support groups and financial support at every key stage: referral, diagnosis and starting treatment.




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