We call on the Welsh Government to reverse their position on refusing to differentiate cancer waiting time targets for different cancers. Pancreatic cancer is both the quickest killing and deadliest common cancer. It is imperative governments across the UK recognise that pancreatic cancer is an emergency that cannot be addressed through a one-size-fits-all approach.
Lynne Neagle, Member for Torfaen asked in a written Assembly question what steps are being taken to ensure targets in Wales take into the fact that some cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, are more difficult to diagnose and so require more rapid treatment.
The answer by the Minister for Health and Social Services was disappointing. The Government’s approach to cancer waiting times is to have a new Single Cancer Pathway and a new 62 day waiting time standard for all cancers from the point of suspicion of cancer, without variation for pancreatic cancer or any other cancer. In his response: “This approach gives people the best chance of accessing the appropriate treatment and ensures there is equity in the pathway between types of cancer. “
Pancreatic Cancer UK dispute this assertion. Treating everyone with cancer the same irrespective of their type of cancer is not fair. Tragically 1 in 4 people with pancreatic cancer will die within a month of diagnosis. We feel strongly that where people have a cancer that is very hard to diagnose early and that progresses quickly, such as pancreatic cancer, that Governments and clinicians need to commit to faster treatment times so that patients have a realistic chance to receive treatment and to survive, or to live longer. Pancreatic cancer has been treated inadequately for decades, survival rates have barely changed over the last 40 years. Still only 7% of people survive 5 years with pancreatic cancer.
We already know that where people are treated faster they are more likely to receive treatment which enables them to survive longer. University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust reduced the time to surgery for pancreatic cancer patients from two months to just over two weeks, increasing the number of patients whose surgery was successful by more than a fifth. To extend life expectancy we now need action. Surgery is the only curative treatment for pancreatic cancer, yet the current surgery rate is at a depressingly low rate of 10% across the UK.
Last year 100,600 people supported our campaign, Demand Faster Treatment, calling for UK Governments to commit to treating pancreatic cancer within 20 days and to implement dedicated and faster models of care to get people into treatment quicker. It is incredibly disappointing to see the Welsh Government refusing to acknowledge the fact that pancreatic cancer is a cancer emergency when other UK Governments have accepted the need to act faster when there is a clinical need, and have also welcomed the campaign’s ambition for faster treatment. Responding directly to the Demand Faster Treatment petition in a House of Commons debate, the then-Minister at the Department for Health and Social Care noted: “We should embrace that level of ambition”, whilst the Scottish Government has a specific target to ensure 15% of people with pancreatic cancer receive potentially life-saving surgery.
We welcome the current work that the Welsh Government is doing to ensure a speedier diagnosis of cancer through the new 62 day cancer waiting time which will start from the point of suspected cancer rather than when people receive a cancer diagnosis. However, we know that this is still too long for people with pancreatic cancer, currently only 7 in 10 people receive any form of active treatment. The current target for diagnosis and treatment will continue to mean that far too many people with the disease never get a chance to get into treatment, which is an injustice. We do not believe that there should be a single approach for all cancers irrespective of their prognosis. We urge the Welsh Government to review this decision in the near future, so that more people with pancreatic cancer can access life changing treatment quicker, enabling us to improve survival for the least survivable cancer.”