An audit of lung cancer care has found wide regional variation in the number of patients receiving treatment.

The National Lung Cancer Audit, published today (Monday) by the NHS Information Centre, found that the discrepancy was not fully explained by variations in case-mix.

The study, based on 2009 data, found a six-fold difference in the proportion of lung cancer patients receiving surgery. As many as 31.4 per cent underwent the potentially lifesaving treatment at Barts and the London Trust, compared with the median figure for England and Wales of 14.1 per cent.

However, Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust put only 5.3 per cent of  its lung cancer patients under the knife, and just 4.2 per cent had surgery at South Warwickshire Foundation Trust. A spokesperson for South Warwickshire said its patients were operated on at a neighbouring hospital.

The rate of patients with non-small cell lung cancer who underwent potentially curative surgery also varied, ranging from 10.7 per cent to 20.3 per cent.

However, the variations mask an overall improvement in the rate of patients being offered surgery, which has increased by half in five years, from 9 per cent in 2005. The study recommended underperforming trusts reviewed their care systems.

Mick Peake, the audit’s clinical lead, said the variations could not be fully explained by external social factors such as health inequalities.

Dr Peake said:“The degree of variation falls a little, but bad remains bad and good remains good.”

The study also revealed huge differences in the proportions of cases where patients were having “active treatment”. In Mid Cheshire Hospitals Foundation Trust, 88.1 per cent of patients were undergoing such treatment, compared with a national average of 58.2 per cent. But for Hillingdon Hospitals Trust the figure was 19.2 per cent.

Cancer Research UK director of cancer information Lesley Walker  said the variations were “worrying”, but the amount of data now available would “undoubtedly help reduce this variation”.

'Better quality data will help to reduce variations in care'