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NHS waiting times for cancer care in England now longest on record | NHS



Waiting times for cancer care in England are the longest on record, the latest figures have revealed, forcing tens of thousands of patients every month to wait longer than they should to see a specialist or start treatment.

The NHS’s performance against seven of its nine cancer waiting times targets has fallen to its worst ever level, prompting concern about patients having their diagnosis or treatment delayed.

The worsening of fast access to cancer care was revealed in NHS England’s latest monthly batch of data showing how quickly hospitals are providing key services, including surgery and A&E care against targets that are supposedly patient rights enshrined in the NHS constitution.

The figures also showed that the number of people waiting for operations such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removals has risen again to just over 6.1 million – yet another new record high. Almost 24,000 have been waiting for more than two years.

For example, while 93% of people who GPs suspect may have cancer should be seen by a specialist within two weeks of their urgent referral, in January just 75% were – the lowest proportion ever. While 152,093 of the 202,816 people GPs referred to hospital were seen within two weeks, another 50,723 – one in four – were not.

Similarly, although 96% of people with confirmed cancer should start treatment within 31 days of doctors deciding to treat them, just 89.6% did so. That means that 2,644 of the 25,524 patients had to wait longer than a month to start receiving chemotherapy, have radiotherapy or undergo surgery.

And an even smaller proportion of people with cancer who should start treatment within 62 days of being referred by a GP did so in January. While the target is 85%, hospitals only managed to treat 61.8% of them in that time, which meant that 5,161 people had their care delayed.

“It is deeply troubling to see these figures now at yet another worst-ever record, as we know that any delay to diagnosis and treatment causes huge amounts of anxiety and distress for people living with cancer”, said Eve Byrne, the director of advocacy at Macmillan Cancer Support.

While the figures cover a period in which the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was putting hospitals under pressure, performance across the nine different waiting times was worse than a year earlier when they were grappling with the Delta variant, which left more people seriously ill than Omicron.

Both Macmillan and Cancer Research UK pinpointed longstanding shortages of staff in the NHS cancer workforce as a key reason for the sharp decline in performance.

“More people than ever before are facing unacceptably long waits for vital cancer tests and treatment,” said Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK.

“Winter pressures and Omicron combined have only added weight to a historically overburdened NHS, but staff shortages were holding down efforts to improve cancer survival well before this.”

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, who was treated last year for kidney cancer, said: “I know from experience the importance of an early cancer diagnosis and quick treatment. Too many cancer patients are left waiting for unacceptable lengths of time, with the insecurity of not knowing.

“The Conservatives use the pandemic as an excuse, but that doesn’t explain why cancer patients have been waiting longer every year since 2010.”

Over the last 12 months a total of 424,382 people with suspected cancer have not seen a specialist within two weeks, 19,861 of those diagnosed with the disease did not start treatment within 31 days and 50,049 had to wait longer than the supposed maximum 62 days.

The performance data also showed that:

Prof Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, stressed that “despite ongoing pressures our hardworking NHS staff delivered 280,000 more tests and checks for patients in January compared to the same time last year, and almost 1.24 million started consultant-led treatment, as more people continue to come forward for care who may have been reluctant to seek help during the pandemic.”

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year



In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart


17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus



Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer



Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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