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Record number of cancer patients treated last year, but waiting list grows

More than 320,000 people received cancer care in the 12 months from November 2021.

03 January 2023

A record number of cancer patients received treatment last year, but waiting lists were also the longest ever, according to NHS figures.

More than 320,000 people received cancer care in the 12 months from November 2021, up by more than 8,000 on the same period from November 2018 – the last pre-pandemic comparison, the health service said.

Record numbers also had potentially life-saving cancer checks last year, with more than 2.8 million people seen by the NHS – up almost a fifth from the pre-pandemic period when 2.35 million were tested.

More than 10,000 people were checked every day in the 12 months from November 2021, and around 6% of tests resulted in a cancer diagnosis.

This comes amid record waiting lists for routine treatment across all illnesses, including cancer.

Some 239,180 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in October, the highest number for that month in records going back to 2009.

This is down from 251,977 in September, but the sixth highest monthly number on record.

Dame Cally Palmer, national cancer director for NHS England, described the record numbers of patients being treated for cancer as “important progress”.

She said: “NHS staff have been working incredibly hard over the past year to recover from the pandemic and it’s thanks to our campaigning efforts and early diagnosis drives, alongside the courage of people like Dame Deborah James encouraging people to come forward, that we’ve seen and treated record numbers of people.

Dame Deborah James with husband Sebastien Bowen
Dame Deborah James with husband Sebastien Bowen (Harkness Rose Company/PA)

“This is important progress – we know lives are saved when cancers are caught early and when more people are seen for tests and checks – and as we head into the new year, the NHS will not take its foot off the pedal when it comes to ensuring people are seen and treated as early as possible.

“I would urge everyone to keep talking to your friends and loved ones to raise awareness, and come forward for checks if you have potential symptoms and concerns – the NHS is here for you.”

The NHS has recently doubled spending on cancer awareness campaigns, and medics continue to encourage people to come forward for checks if invited or if experiencing potential symptoms.

Gordon Darnell, 69, from Croxteth, Merseyside, said a routine check saved his life after it led to an early diagnosis of stage one lung cancer in November 2021.

He said: “I was never ill – not before my diagnosis, not during treatment and not now, and that’s because they picked it up so early.”

Mr Darnell, who had surgery in January 2022, wants to encourage others to take up the offer of a cancer check if invited, adding: “We’re talking an hour out of your day.

“If you go and there’s nothing wrong, you haven’t lost anything, but if there is something wrong, you’ve got to deal with it as quickly as possible.

“I truly believe it has saved my life.”

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