Researchers call for improvements to cancer diagnostic services

Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

NHS services for diagnosing cancer are under-funded, under-staffed, and key waiting time targets are being missed, according to two new reports from Cancer Research UK published today.

Early diagnosis is vital in improving cancer outcomes and was a priority area in the new NHS cancer strategy, announced this summer.

Around 84 people are diagnosed with cancer every day in the east of England area.

In Norfolk more than one in five patients wait longer than 62 days for treatment from their first GP referral for suspected cancer.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director for early diagnosis, said: 'The state of NHS diagnostic services is deeply concerning – and new GP referral guidelines from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) mean that even more patients will be waiting for these tests.'

In the new cancer strategy the target for 2020 is for 95% of patients to be diagnosed with cancer - or have it ruled out - within four weeks of a referral from GPs.

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The charity is calling on chancellor George Osborne to increase funding for NHS diagnostic services.

The reports highlight the growing pressures on services for imaging and endoscopy – a test that uses a camera to look inside parts of the body.

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And, as the number of new cancer cases continues to rise, the demand for these diagnostic tests will grow.

The endoscopy report, produced by the University of Birmingham, predicts that more than 750,000 extra endoscopies will need to be performed each year in the UK by 2020 - around a 44pc rise from today's levels.

These tests are carried out to investigate a range of symptoms and diagnose many different diseases – not just cancer.

The predicted increase is due to the ageing and growing population.

There is also a shortage of staff working in diagnostic services, including nurse endoscopists and radiologists, according to the second report. The report, produced by agency 2020 Delivery, also claims imaging equipment used for tests such as CT scans, MRI, and ultrasounds is outdated.

Authors estimate it will cost £215m to replace old imaging equipment with extra money needed to pay for additional kit to meet growing demand.

'There aren't enough trained staff, they're often reliant on outdated equipment and in many cases they're already operating services seven days a week,' Ms Hiom said.

'Patients are waiting too long for tests.

'This has to change if doctors are to diagnose more people with cancer earlier, when treatment is more effective.'

Dr Giles Maskell, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: 'The concerns highlighted in these reports aren't just limited to cancer patients – they apply to everyone who uses these services and also include patients being monitored for any changes in their condition.

'We need a commitment to greater investment in these services to meet the demand and increase survival.'

Cancer Research UK has launched a new campaign - Test Cancer Sooner - calling for more investment from the Government to speed up diagnosis for cancer patients.

To sign the petition visit your local Cancer Research UK shop or online at

Have you waited long for cancer treatment?

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