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Crisis: The delay in cancer diagnosis and treatment within the UK

View profile for Lauren Goode
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Cancer. It is an uncomfortable topic to discuss and an adversary most of us wish to avoid. However, these days it seems unavoidable. According to NHS England, one in two of us will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during our lifetime.

Despite advancements in medical care, the UK seems to suffer with a persistent challenge: delayed cancer diagnosis and delayed treatment. These delays not only exacerbate the suffering of patients but also diminishes the efficacy of treatments and reduces survival rates.

Recently, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) revealed that between April 2020 and December 2023, the Office carried out 1,019 investigations related to cancer. The main issues reported included “treatment delays, misdiagnosis, failure to identify cancer, the mismanagement of conditions, and pain management”.

Causes for Delay

“UK's high rate of avoidable deaths linked to NHS woes”,  “Cancer waiting times in 2023 worst on record in England”, “More than a third of cancer patients in England face potentially deadly delays”.  It isn’t hard to see the issues which may be causing these delays.

There has been a culmination of issues that have caused such delays from strain on healthcare resources to a lack of funding for specialist services to prolonged waiting times for consultations and to the delay in receiving diagnostic testing.

NHS England have recently published that they have failed to reach targets in several key areas.  In December 2023, 65.9% of cancer patients waited less than 62 days from an urgent suspected cancer referral to their first treatment for cancer. Meanwhile, the NHS had set the target to 85%. Worryingly, this target was last achieved some 8 years ago in December 2015.

Consequences of Delay

The ultimate effect is the reduction of efficient treatment, less invasive treatment options and a reduction of survival rates.

The charity, Cancer Research UK, published the following statistics in February 2024:

An infographic from Cancer Research UK explaining the proportion of people who survive their cancer for five years or more after diagnosis, compared to the stage at which their cancer was first diagnosed.

(Image credit: Cancer Research UK)

The ramifications of delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment are profound and far-reaching. When diagnosed and/or treated at a later stage, the disease has often already progressed to a more advanced state. This not only reduces the likelihood of successful treatment but also necessitates more aggressive interventions, thereby, placing a further strain on healthcare resources. This may lead to a cyclical effect increasing the delays for future patients.

In turn, this will increase the emotional toll on the cancer patient and also their families when having to deal with uncertainty and a prolonged course of treatment.

Get in Touch

If you or your family believe they have been affected by the delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer, please visit our Clinical Negligence page or contact Lauren Goode at  and David Lydon at

Alternatively, feel free to contact your local branch or give us a call on 0845 55 55 321, and our friendly team will happily assist you.