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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 00:01 GMT
Patients 'die waiting for treatment'
radiotherapy treatment
The government says patients are waiting too long
Some cancer patients are dying because the NHS cannot treat them soon enough, a BBC investigation has revealed.

Although many waiting list targets are being met, the Ten O'Clock News found that a range of patients face long waits for treatment - sometimes with fatal consequences.

BBC Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson said new equipment was appearing but the NHS had neither machines or the staff to deliver treatment on time.

We need to focus on the key priorities and expand capacity across the NHS in every area that we can

John Hutton,
health minister
Professor Karol Sikora, a cancer specialist at Hammersmith Hospital in London, warned that delays could mean life or death for some people.

"For a small number, and we can't know which they are, if they don't get treated promptly the disease has the chance to spread around the body and eventually they will die from their cancer," he told the BBC.

Doctors advise that women with breast cancer should be treated within four weeks of surgery.

But the BBC investigation found one patient in Hertfordshire had to wait 17 weeks.

In west London some women can wait up to 16 weeks.

Going private

The Wycombe General Hospital in Buckinghamshire uses its website to warn patients they face a two to three month wait unless they go private.

It says the team uses the Harley Street Clinic in London which, for non-insured patients, could cost between 5,000 and 5,500.

Anne Johnstone, who has a brain tumour, says she is angry at being forced to wait.

She should have had radiotherapy treatment within four weeks, but nine weeks later she is still waiting.

"From one day to another you feel your energy going and energy is necessary to cope," she said.

"You are dealing with human beings, you are dealing with people and you are taking away the quality of life. That is my anger."

'Key priorities'

A long wait for treatment is not restricted to cancer patients, the investigation found.

Thousands of elderly patients are being left without hearing aids - in Southampton patients can wait nearly two years for a hearing test.

Disturbed children across the UK can wait up to nine months or longer to see a psychologist.

And children who need speech therapy can wait up to two years.

Health minister John Hutton said patients across the board do have to wait too long for treatment.

"That is why it is important why we need to focus on the key priorities and expand capacity across the NHS in every area that we can," he said.

Our correspondent says the government insists the focus on waiting times for surgery has not been at the expense of patients needing "less glamorous" treatments.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"New equipment is beginning to appear"
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Health
Waiting lists top public concern
20 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
NI waiting lists 'worst in Europe'
19 Feb 02 | NHS People
Surgeon concerned by waiting lists
07 Feb 02 | Scotland
Waiting lists claims spark fresh row
30 Jan 02 | Wales
Waiting lists set to rise
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