Cancer patients are being forced to wait weeks for scan results as thousands of doctors cut their hours over the NHS pensions crisis.
Waiting times have increased from one to six weeks at many hospitals – with some cases of cancer being missed as a result, a report said.
Top radiologists say lives are being put in danger as vital scans to determine the spread of cancer are left unread for weeks due to a backlog.
At some hospitals, patients are turning up for appointments with specialists but being sent home again because their scan has not been read.
The backlog has been caused by a pensions timebomb that is forcing hospitals to reduce services because soaring numbers of doctors are cutting down their hours to avoid a punitive tax on their pension pots.
New rules mean GPs and consultants can be hit with tax rates of up to 90 per cent on their total pension value if they earn more than £110,000 a year. It means consultants are substantially cutting back on any overtime or weekend work as they can be taxed thousands for earning a penny over the threshold.
In a report on the crisis by the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), radiologists complained of cancer waiting times soaring. ‘Radiology waiting times are unacceptable, with [delays of]five to six weeks for cancer patients on treatment to get a report,’ one said. Another radiologist added: ‘Unexpected and critical findings are going unreported for weeks. We are now just firefighting.’
HCSA president Dr Claudia Paoloni told the Guardian: ‘The breakdown of hospital services is gathering pace and threatens to run out of control by winter unless the Treasury admits it has got it wrong.’
The Department of Health and Social Care said it will be consulting on proposals to make NHS pensions more flexible for senior clinicians.