Cancer treatment in England and Wales

Published: 22nd Apr 2015

Ed Miliband has announced that the next Labour government will invest "£150 million each year ... in new cancer diagnostic infrastructure".

We wanted to find out how different governments approach cancer treatment, so we had a look at figures for England, under the Coalition government, to Wales, under the Labour-controlled Welsh Assembly. We looked at waiting times, cancer care and expected outcomes, and here's what we found:

We can't compare diagnostic waiting times

Diagnostic waiting times in Wales are not strictly comparable to those in England, according to the House of Commons Library. There are a few reasons for this — including different targets and different measures in the two regions.

The Welsh NHS is currently doing better at treating suspected cancer patients within two months

In both countries patients with suspected cancer should wait no longer than the target of 62 days for treatment after being referred by their GP as an urgent case. That includes the time it takes to diagnose them.

88% of patients in Wales were seen that quickly in the final quarter of last year (October to December 2014). In England, the figure was 84%. During parts of 2012 and 2013, the Welsh NHS was less likely to see patients in time than the English NHS. But both countries use different definitions so it's not certain the figures are directly comparable.

Both countries are missing their targets, though. In Wales the target is for 95% of patients to be treated within two months, a target last met in December 2013.

In England the target is for 85% of patients to be treated in this time, a target it hasn't met since winter 2013.

Cancer survival rates - no new data

Unfortunately comparisons of cancer survival rates are tricky - we haven't been able to find one data source that includes England and Wales after 2011.

Research published in the Lancet last month (and funded by Cancer Research UK) suggests that cancer survival rates were higher in England than in Wales, even when accounting for differences in the population (this is known as "net survival"). This conclusion is supported by analysis from the Welsh Government itself.

Even if we had more recent data on survival it's probably not a fair comparison of NHS performance. The Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation prefer to compare Wales and other regions to the North East of England, rather than to England as a whole. That's because the North East has the most similar demographic profile.

Comparing survival rates to the whole of England, where people on average are richer and have healthier lifestyles, could be unfair to the health service in Wales.

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