Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in the UK are being forced to pay for private treatment amid record NHS waiting times, according to data obtained by the Guardian.
The figures emerged as King Charles began treatment for the disease within days of being diagnosed. Buckingham Palace has not specified whether the king is receiving private healthcare or being treated on the National Health Service.
While the king is already receiving expert care, his treatment will draw fresh attention to the long cancer waiting times in the state-run NHS, which is widely regarded by experts as being in crisis.
The proportion of patients in England waiting less than 62 days from an urgent suspected cancer referral or consultant upgrade to their first definitive treatment for cancer is 65.2%, according to the most recent figures. The target is 85%.
The figures, for November, show that one in 10 people are being denied treatment within 31 days of their cancer being found and a decision being made to treat them. Some 90.1% are seen within this timeframe in England, lower than the 96% NHS target.
Amid growing frustration at NHS waiting lists, record numbers of people are paying for private healthcare. Nearly 300,000 people in the UK have paid for chemotherapy in the last five years, figures provided to the Guardian show.
Between 2018 and 2023, 282,560 people funded chemotherapy treatments through insurance, according to the Private Healthcare Information Network, an independent, government-backed information service about private consultants and hospitals. A further 13,900 paid for their own chemotherapy, the data shows.
The PHIN said it could not provide figures for people paying to undergo cancer surgery, radiotherapy or other forms of private cancer treatment. It means the total number of people paying for private cancer treatment is likely to be even higher.
On Monday, the king spent the night at his Clarence House home near Buckingham Palace after beginning a series of outpatient treatments within days of his diagnosis.
The cancer was discovered when Charles stayed three nights last month in the London Clinic, an exclusive private hospital in Marylebone, where he underwent a corrective procedure for a benign enlarged prostate.
Buckingham Palace has not specified which healthcare provider is treating the king. But it is understood that in selecting providers, a balance of factors was taken into account. They included his privacy and security, the most appropriate specialists for the condition, and the potential impact on other patients and on the resources of the NHS and other healthcare providers.
Amid record waiting times for cancer treatment on the NHS, survival rates for cancer in the UK lag behind those of other European countries for nine out of 10 of the most common types of the disease, according to an NHS Confederation report published in January.
A separate report commissioned by Cancer Research UK last week said progress in UK cancer survival was now slower than it has been for 50 years. The study said the UK lagged behind comparable countries, such as Australia, Canada, Denmark and Norway, in tackling the disease.
Researchers said cancer waiting times across the country were among the worst on record, too many cancers were diagnosed at a late stage, and access to treatment was unequal.
The NHS in England said on Tuesday that it was seeing and treating record numbers of people for cancer, with 30% more people treated last year than in 2015-16 and almost 3 million people receiving potentially life-saving cancer checks in the last 12 months.
“It is vital that people come forward if they are concerned about cancer symptoms – getting checked early saves lives,” a spokesperson added.
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