According to a review made by the Health Foundation based on OECD data, government records held between 1995 and 2015 state that despite strategies setting ambitious goals, the NHS is lagging behind. England has failed to close the gap on the best performing nations when it comes to cancer care.

The Health Foundation analysed UK performance against Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Australia, for key cancers such as colon, breast, rectum, lung, ovarian and prostate. For each type the UK remains in the bottom two since the year 2000 for five year survival rates. The Health Foundation estimates that approximately 10,000 deaths could be prevented each year with better diagnosis, representing 1 in 13 deaths.

More cancer patients face NHS treatment delays

In the year up to June, 130, 553 people in England waited more than two weeks for their initial appointment with a cancer specialist after being urgently referred by a GP. This has increased from 104,930 in the year 2016-2017.

91.1% of all people referred were seen within two weeks in June, compared with the NHS standard of 93%.

Data obtained by Labour through a freedom of information request shows that the longest waits for cancer treatment in England’s 172 acute and community health trust (95 responded) have soared since 2010, with one patent waiting 541 days.

Two thirds of the NHS trusts reported having at least one patient waiting more than 6 – 12 months for treatment. The official target requires 85% of cancer patients to have treatment within 62 days of referral by a GP, but this target has not been met for 27 months in a row.

NHS statistics show that patients waiting more than 62 days was double that compared in 2010, including 10,000 who waited for more than three months.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, states:

“The number of those needing cancer treatments has risen in the past 10 years; the government has failed to increase availability of services at the rate required.

“The efforts of NHS staff to deliver are being hampered by tight budgets. Years of underfunding and abject failure to invest in the frontline doctors and nurses we need.”


  • 359,960 New cases of cancer, 2015, UK
  • 163,444 Deaths from cancer, 2016, UK
  • 50% survive cancer for 10 or more years, 2010, 2011
  • 38% of Cancer cases are preventable, UK, 2015
  • One in three will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, 2010

Survival rates are improving, with half of patients surviving at least five years from the date of diagnosis. This is due to several improvements, in the forms of treatment, earlier diagnosis, screening programmes and improved public health education.

Although there has been significant progress, unfortunately there are occasions when diagnosis is missed, delayed or wrongly identified as a different condition.

There are over 200 types of cancer, the most common being breast, lung, bowel and prostate. There are several types which are commonly misdiagnosed:

  • Breast Cancer
  • Colon Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Skin Cancer
  • Lung Cancer

How we can help

Whilst considering prognosis, treatment and implications, you may consider if it could have been diagnosed sooner. Most claims relate to a delay or failure to diagnose.

In these instances patients may suffer harm because of the lack of timely intervention or inappropriate treatment.  If this can be proved it may be possible to bring a medical negligence claim.

The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better chance there is of successful treatment. In order to pursue a clinical negligence claim, you must prove a delay in diagnosis and that the delay caused harm. The harm could be that your health worsened, or your treatment would have been less invasive or more successful had it begun sooner.

We consult independent experts to comment on whether the failure to diagnose the disease amounts to negligence. If negligence is identified, we ask an Oncologist, a specialist doctor who treats cancer, whether the delay caused harm.

Some cancers progress slowly. Although you may be able to identify a delay, it may not have made a difference to the outcome, or to treatment required.

You may be able to pursue a claim if you have attended the GP repeatedly complaining of persistent or worsening symptoms, which should have been investigated further and were not.  Negligence can occur when professionals misinterpret scans, smears or test results, or if test results are lost and there are delays in obtaining new samples.

Ison Harrison Successful Case Study:

Recently we acted on behalf of a widow, of a 70 year old man whose diagnosis of lung cancer was delayed due to an error with the radiologist. Liability was admitted and a negotiated settlement reached.

Mr B underwent a chest x-ray; having suffered from a cough for years. Mr B was told the x-ray was clear. 18 months later, he underwent another chest x-ray which showed abnormalities. Lung cancer was diagnosed. Unfortunately the cancer spread to his lymph nodes, and he died within months. We at Ison Harrison obtained evidence from a radiologist who confirmed that the first x-ray was misreported, therefore leading to a delay in diagnosis.

Contact us

We understand how difficult coming to terms with a diagnosis of cancer is.  We provide legal advice and support for clients whose condition and prognosis has been affected by a delay in diagnosis.

If you believe yourself or a family member have suffered as a result of clinical negligence, can contact a member of the team for free advice on 0113 284 5000 or Contact us as soon as possible for confidential legal advice, either by phone or alternatively email.

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