The debating chamber at The Senedd
The debating chamber at The Senedd Credit: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

Far too many leukaemia patients are being diagnosed after presenting at accident and emergency departments, leading to reduced survival rates, Senedd members warned.

Mark Isherwood said leukaemia has a significantly higher rate of emergency diagnosis at 37% compared with the overall cancer average of 21%.

Leading a debate in the Senedd, the Conservative MS told the chamber: “Being diagnosed via an emergency setting has been linked to reduced survival.

“Sadly, there are nearly 5,000 deaths attributed to leukaemia every year in the UK, with 250 deaths in Wales every year.”

The North Wales representative said Betsi Cadwaladr University health board has the highest leukaemia mortality rate, with 311 deaths between 2017 and 2021.

‘Hard to spot’

Mr Isherwood highlighted the Spot Leukaemia campaign, launched by charities Leukaemia Care and Leukaemia UK, to raise awareness of the symptoms.

He said: “The challenge with early diagnosis of leukaemia is multifaceted but it can be attributed, in part, to the non-specific symptoms of leukaemia, including persistent fatigue, unexplained bruising, which can be indicative of more common and less sinister illnesses.

“This makes leukaemia hard to spot for the public and health care professionals.”

Mr Isherwood said a full blood count is all that is needed to diagnose leukaemia early or rule it out, which is significantly cheaper than many other diagnostic tests.

He sought to dispel public misperception that leukaemia is a childhood disease, explaining that 64% of those diagnosed are aged over 65.

‘Dereliction of duty’

The Conservative said: “More awareness of leukaemia is greatly needed, with 30% of the UK public still thinking leukaemia only affects those who are aged under 15.”

Mr Isherwood raised concerns about data collection in Wales, saying stats on emergency presentations are published in England with Scotland planning to follow suit.

He warned: “Wales neither routinely records nor publishes emergency presentation data, nor routinely collects data on the route to diagnosis, such as via a GP, emergency department or screening for any cancer type, including leukaemia.”

Backing Leukaemia Care’s call for better data, Mr Isherwood added: “The Welsh Government and Public Health Wales should and must routinely record and publish emergency presentation data for leukaemia.

“It would be a dereliction of duty if they did not respond positively to this call.”


Mike Hedges, a Labour backbencher, said the highest emergency presentation rates for any type of cancer occur in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at 66%.

The Swansea East MS said: “Many people aren’t aware of the signs and symptoms of leukaemia until they or someone they know is diagnosed.

“This leads to a delay in visiting a GP, which can delay a diagnosis, worsening the outcome for patients.

“Quite often, due to the non-specific nature of the symptoms and relative rarity of leukaemia, people are misdiagnosed by their GP or attend several times before they get a diagnosis.”

Lynne Neagle recognised charities’ concerns that leukaemia is often overlooked but she stressed that the Welsh Government is committed to improving outcomes for all cancers.

‘Enormous pressure’

Replying to the debate on February 28, the deputy minister said Health Education and Improvement Wales has provided guidance and training for all GPs.

Ms Neagle added that rapid diagnostic centres have been rolled out, covering the whole population of Wales, to give GPs an extra option if they suspect cancer.

She warned cancer services are under enormous pressure due to long-term increases in demand and treatment complexity.

Ms Neagle told MSs the number of people referred onto the suspected cancer pathway has risen by 53% in three years to 16,000 patients a month in 2023.

She said: “I know the NHS is working incredibly hard with the resources at their disposal to give people timely access to the diagnosis and treatment they require.”