Just 3.1 per cent of head and neck cancer patients in England receive the “ideal patient pathway”, an audit examining seven key aspects of care has suggested.

In 16 of the 28 regional cancer networks - bodies set up to drive change and improvement for cancer services in specific areas of England - no patients at all were receiving the best care, according to the 2012 national head and neck cancer audit.

The highest proportion of patients receiving the “ideal patient pathway” were found in north London - but even there just 23.5 per cent of patients had access to all seven key care aspects of care.

The researchers from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, said that the seven elements ensure that patients get “holistic and integrated care”.

These elements of care include having nutritional, speech and language, and dental assessments and chest scans or X-rays before surgery and having the case discussed by a multi-disciplinary team.

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: “This is a high quality national report that I would encourage everyone involved in the commissioning and provision of head and neck cancer to read.

“I very much welcome the author’s concentration on reporting and highlighting of treatment variation across the country.

“The role of these reports is to establish the picture across the treatment landscape, to allow the discussion between commissioners and providers to drive out unacceptable variation.

“This will drive up quality of care in terms of consistent treatment received and thereby enhanced experience and survival outcomes.”

Sara Osborne, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s disappointing to see this variation in care for patients with head and neck cancers.

“It’s now up to the new strategic clinical networks to provide clinical support to address any variation in care for all head and neck cancer patients wherever they are in the country.”