Cancer Research UK calls for urgent action over radiotherapy waits
Waiting lists for radiotherapy are stretching to over a month for more than of all patients, the Royal College of Radiologists has revealed.
NHS guidelines set a maximum recommended waiting time of four weeks, and the college says that "good practice" would require them to be seen in two weeks.
"These delays reduce the chance of cure and worsen outcomes in some patients," a college report found.
The report draws on an audit of patients beginning radiotherapy in one week last September.
The figures are an improvement on 2003, but down on equivalent figures from 1997.
"Over half of all patients receiving curative radiotherapy wait longer that the recommended maximum of four weeks from the date of decision to treat," Dr Michael Williams of the College of Radiotherapy and the lead on the audit told the Guardian.
He added that the picture was inconsistent.
"The wait varies substantially across the country: some centres treat all patients within target; others do not achieve this for any of their patients," he said.
Cancer Research UK has described waiting times for radiotherapy as "unacceptable" but added that there is evidence that the Department of Health is addressing the issue.
"All patients deserve to receive the best possible care. A cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment is a stressful period - so adding further anxiety through such delays is unacceptable," said Kate Law, head of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK.
"Cancer Research UK is pleased that the Department of Health is going some way to address the problem of radiotherapy provision, through the establishment of the Department of Health's Radiotherapy Advisory Group last year.
"We hope to see a comprehensive plan for radiotherapy published as soon as possible," she added.