Shortage of doctors puts cancer patients at risk

  • March 22, 2019
  • More than 7.5% of consultant posts at 62 major cancer centres in the UK are vacant, according to a census released by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) on Tuesday 19 March. This figure is a notable increase from the 5% vacancy level five years previously.

    In order to keep up with demand, the census revealed that full-time doctors are working more than 6 hours extra per week on average. If this overtime were taken into account the shortage would be more than 20%.

    The combination of staff shortages and increasing workloads on full-time staff are a cause for concern, as they contribute to stress, burnout and early retirement ages for clinical oncologists.

    Dr Tom Roques of the RCS said that these doctors are vital to the implementation of many “fantastic innovations” in the field of cancer treatment, “but we do not have enough of them and our workforce projections are increasingly bleak”.

    In light of recent statistics released by NHS England showing increased delays for cancer patients, Dr Rosie Loftus, chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, also commented: “We know that hard-working NHS professionals are already struggling to cope with escalating workloads, which are in part due to staffing challenges” and that “To meet the bold ambitions for improving cancer care, we urgently need a costed plan to increase and sustain the number of staff needed to deliver them”.

    NHS Response

    The government has promised an extra £20bn per year by 2023 to the NHS in England to assist it in tackling the issues it is facing, with cancer being a priority for spending. A spokesperson to the Department of Health and Social Care in England commented: “Improving cancer care and reducing waits is a priority for the NHS and we recently unveiled a series of commitments as part of the NHS Long Term Plan backed by £200m to fund new ways to rapidly detect and treat cancer.”

    While both the number of clinical oncologists and doctors in training in the UK continue to increase, demand from patients has risen at higher rate.

    Charlotte Measures, a Senior Associate from the Medical Accident Group said: “It is of great concern to note that there are insufficient numbers of doctors who are specialised in cancer diagnosis & treatment to meet the needs of patients. I have dealt with numerous claims that involve a delayed diagnosis of cancer where, with an earlier diagnosis, the claimant was likely to have been cured, but instead faces a terminal prognosis. These claims are devastating for the clients and their loved ones and more needs to be done to ensure early diagnosis and treatment within the NHS”.

    We deal with all areas of medical negligence including delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you or someone you know has suffered a delay in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer or have lost a loved one due to their condition not being managed correctly then please contact us. If you believe you have a claim, call the team now on 0800 050 1668 or email us at

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