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600,000 Urgent Care Referrals Not Seen Within Two Weeks

Urgent care referrals made through the NHS should be seen within two weeks. However, analysis of figures has shown 600,000 have had to wait longer than this. Sky News reported that 2.8 million people in England were given an urgent care referral from the GP to see a cancer specialist in the last year. Although this should not take more than a fortnight to go through, over half a million were left waiting longer than two weeks, which is 13 times the figure from 2010. Additionally, 100,000 patients have waited over a month to begin cancer treatment this year, which is seven times greater than 13 years ago. This figure has also tripled in the last three years alone. When it comes to starting surgery, 113,000 people waited over a month in the past year. This represents a 7.5 increase since 2010, and is more than twice as many before the pandemic. It is essential that people with suspected cancer are seen as soon as possible, and if necessary, given treatment at the earliest opportunity. According to the British Medical Journal, the risk of death from cancer can increase by one-tenth for every month treatment is postponed, which is not odds patients want to play with. The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) is blaming shortage of NHS doctors for the delays, with vice president Dr Tom Roques telling the publication: “Demand is growing, and the oncology workforce needs to grow too if we want to give patients the care they deserve.” He noted that an ageing population means more people are getting cancer in their old age, while people with cancer are living longer, but may require more complex treatments as time goes on. The group warned the government that the NHS will have a “40 per cent shortfall of radiologists by 2027”. This is an increase of 11 per cent from the current status. There will also be a 25 per cent shortfall in clinical oncologists by then, an increase from 15 per cent. The British Medical Association (BMA) recently reported the UK has a shortage of doctors compared with other countries. The average number of clinicians per 1,000 people in OECD EU nations is 3.7 and is as high as 4.3 in Germany. However, this falls to 2.9 in England. It stated England would need 46,300 additional full-time doctors to reach the OECD EU average. There are also areas of the country with a disproportionately low number of doctors. For instance, there are only 4,000 doctors in the Midlands and the north-west of England, despite a population of over 3.5 million people. Among the reasons for staff shortages are rising stress levels among medical staff, particularly following Covid-19. “Since the start of the pandemic, doctors have been left feeling increasingly depressed, anxious, stressed or burnt out as a result of their work or study,” the organisation stated. Additionally, doctors are ageing with fewer new clinicians coming into the profession, and many are retiring early due to their high stress levels. Therefore, there are not enough people training to be doctors to counterbalance those leaving.  

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