Cheshire cancer patients ‘could die sooner’ if NHS cuts are forced through

Cancer patients in Cheshire could die sooner because they will end up waiting longer for urgent hospital treatment if NHS regulators push through controversial cost-cutting plans, it has been claimed.

Doctors and cancer charities have criticised recommendations by NHS England and NHS Improvement that hospitals in the county cut the amount of endoscopies – internal examinations used to diagnose illness – they undertake by 25%.

Macmillan Cancer Support said the plan was “incredibly worrying for cancer patients”.

It is the latest example of what critics call “draconian” measures NHS care providers in 14 large areas of England are being told to push through as part of its secretive “capped expenditure process” designed to ensure the NHS stays within budget.

An internal NHS document also reveals mental health patients would be hit because regulators have suggested axeing a planned £900,000 boost to the area’s mental health budget for this year, in breach of repeated government pledges of extra funding.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “That makes a total mockery of the words in the Queen’s speech that mental health should be prioritised by the NHS. It will damage NHS mental health services and disgust families across the country.”

The document, produced by the NHS in central Cheshire on 31 May and seen by the Guardian, lists 24 different “risks” to the care patients receive if the regulators force through their ideas.

Reducing endoscopies by 25% risks patients having to endure longer waits for cancer treatment and also vital diagnostic tests, especially CT and MRI scans and x-rays, it says. It also risks producing a harmful “impact on early diagnosis”, which would set back NHS efforts to tackle poor cancer survival rates through earlier detection.

Dr Fran Woodard, Macmillan’s executive director of policy, said: “Whilst we know difficult decisions are having to be made, it’s absolutely crucial funding pressures don’t cost cancer patients the standard of care they rightly deserve.

“In all cases, the NHS’s sustainability and transformation partnerships process shouldn’t harm cancer care, including getting a rapid diagnosis, accessing timely treatment and appropriate care following treatment. If any of these areas are impacted, countless people may be left anxious or distressed and ultimately this could have an impact on their survival.”

If the Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS mental health trust agrees to cancel the extra spending on mental health care, patients would get “inappropriate care” in A&E rather than specialist mental health facilities, the document warns. It would also be a false economy because there will still be “increased spend in hospital care” for such patients. And the trust would have failed to comply with the NHS’s Five Year Forward View blueprint, which promised year-on-year spending increases on mental health care by NHS bodies across England between 2015 and 2020.

Full story in The Guardian, 22 June 2017