Emergency hospital admissions among cancer patients have doubled in almost a decade, according to a report.
While such admissions are supposed to be the “exception”, the number has been rising by around 2% a year to 300,000 in 2008/09.
However, the National Audit Office (NAO), which carried out the study, said there was a “poor understanding” of the reasons behind the rise, mostly due to a lack of quality data.
Research shows survival rates among patients diagnosed with cancer as a result of an A&E admission are about half of those for people urgently referred by their GP.
Some 80% of people admitted as an emergency have a pre-existing diagnosis of cancer while 20% are diagnosed with the disease during their hospital stay.
The report found wide variations between primary care trusts (PCTs) in how many cancer patients are admitted as emergencies, while 37% have never compared their levels with other PCTs.
The study also revealed that cancer costs the NHS around £6.3 billion a year but the Department of Health has “limited assurance” over whether the Cancer Reform Strategy, published in 2007, is achieving value for money.
It pointed to “significant gaps” in data, with that relating to the amount of chemotherapy used and outcomes for patients being “poor” and a national dataset on chemotherapy now almost 2.5 years behind schedule.
Every year in England, around 255,000 people are diagnosed with cancer and about 130,000 die from the disease. Predictions are that the number of new cases each year will continue to rise to 300,000 by 2020.
Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “English cancer services have improved but there is still an incredibly long way to go for the country to be a world leader. The NHS needs to finally put the patient at the heart of cancer care, so that people with cancer can be in control of their lives.”