New report highlights postcode disparity in waiting times and treatment

A new report has highlighted the disparity in waiting times and treatment for cancer based on postcode, leading to suggestions that incentivising doctors may encourage them to hit national targets.

The research – from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer – found that the variation in treatment and the ability of people to access radiotherapy and drugs on the NHS was hugely affected by their location.

The “postcode lottery” was termed a “national disgrace” by MPs, with John Baron, chairman of the parliamentary group, stating that “late diagnosis makes for poor survival rates.” He called for efforts to be “redoubled” at every level in order to try to boost earlier diagnosis, so that the UK’s survival rates begin to fall in line with those of other countries.

The report suggested that one solution to the problem is to provide doctors with financial incentives in order to encourage them to reach the national target of seeing patients within two weeks. For more than 10 years, NHS guidance has stated that 95 per cent of people who visit their doctor displaying key signs of cancer must be referred to a specialist within a fortnight.

However, NHS figures show that, on average, under half of patients – 46 per cent – who were diagnosed in 2011/12 were given a two week “urgent referral” by their doctor. Regional variations mean that people living in certain areas are far more likely to have to wait longer than two weeks than those living in other parts of the country.

Premature deaths from cancer are more than twice as high in Liverpool, where there are 157 deaths per 100,000 people under 75, as in wealthy parts of London, such as Kensington and Chelsea, with under 78 people.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed that “every single patient” in the NHS has a right to receive the very best standards of care, whatever in the country they live.

The Department said that it was “committed” to boosting the rate of cancer survival across the UK, adding that its Cancer Strategy detailed its goal of saving an extra 5,000 lives per year by 2014/15. The strategy is supported by over £750 million, a figure which includes more than £450 million of funding which is aimed at “achieving early diagnosis.”

A recent study of 35 countries by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found that only Poland had worse survival rates for certain cancers than the UK.