UK cancer care is in the spotlight again following publication of two reports this week highlighting underfunded and overstretched diagnostic services, leaving patients waiting longer for their diagnosis and thus delaying treatment.

It recently emerged that the ’62-day wait’ target - which states that 85% of patients should receive treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred by a GP for suspected cancer - has been breached for six consecutive quarters, indicating that services are buckling under growing pressure. 

Now, the reports, both for Cancer Research UK, conclude that insufficient funding, workforces shortages and a lack of imaging equipment, with much of that in use out of date, is weighing heavily on diagnostic services throughout the country.

The Horizon Scanning report, by 2020 Delivery, uncovered evidence showing growing numbers of patients waiting for more than six weeks for their imaging examinations and substantial reporting backlogs.

It also warns that an estimated £215 million will be needed to replace old imaging equipment alone, with extra needed to pay for additional kit to meet the growing demand from all patients using these services, not to mention addressing the workforce shortages.

Services facing 44% rise in endoscopies

The endoscopy report, produced by the University of Birmingham, also predicts that more than 750,000 extra endoscopies will need to be performed each year in the UK by 2020 - a 44% rise from today’s levels - because of the ageing and growing population. It says action is needed now to ensure diagnostics services can cope with this rise in demand.

“The state of NHS diagnostic services is deeply concerning - and new GP referral guidelines from NICE mean that even more patients will be waiting for these tests,” said Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director for early diagnosis.

“These reports looked at imaging and endoscopy capacity but the underlying themes seem to be true across all cancer diagnostic services. But these tests aren’t just for people with cancer - if the government is looking to spend wisely then investing more in NHS diagnostic services is an obvious value-for-money choice,” she stressed.