One in five cancers are being diagnosed at A&E – dramatically slashing the patient’s chances of survival.
GPs have been partly blamed for not spotting the warning signs early enough.
But the National Audit Office also pointed out that many people don’t know what to look for, so they have no idea that anything is wrong until they become so ill they need emergency treatment.
There also seems to be a postcode lottery – with 30 per cent of all cancers diagnosed at A&E in the worst performing areas, and just 13 per cent in the best.
Patients who discover they have cancer when they are at a casualty department are twice as likely to die within a year than those referred by their GP, because their disease tends to be more advanced.
The NAO said: ‘About one in five people are still diagnosed either in an A&E department or following an emergency admission to hospital, rather than via a routine screening or GP referral to hospital.
‘In 2012 the percentage of cancers diagnosed through emergency presentation varied from 13 per cent to 30 per cent across 211 clinical commissioning groups. More research is needed to understand better how many emergency presentations are avoidable and how they can be avoided.’
However, the figures did show a decrease in the proportion of cancers diagnosed at A&E between 2009 and 2012 – from 23.7 per cent to 20.6.
Last night Labour’s health spokesman Andy Burnham said of the report: ‘Growing numbers of patients are waiting too long to get tested for cancer. Speed is everything and patients are being badly let down.’
‘Labour will guarantee a maximum one-week wait for cancer tests and create a new Cancer Treatment Fund to improve access to drugs, radiotherapy and surgery.