The NHS is wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on cancer treatment with no measurable impact on outcomes, according to a report.

There is an eight-fold variation in the number of patients referred for urgent diagnosis by GPs, and spending by primary care trusts ranges from £55 to £154 a head.

A review of the Government's Cancer Reform Strategy, launched in 2000 and updated in 2007 to improve cancer survival and bring the UK up to European standards, says urgently needed resources to treat the growing number of cancer patients are being squandered. Waiting times have come down and the number of days patients spend in hospital have been reduced. But emergency admissions have doubled and there are huge swings in the amount primary care trusts spend on cancer services from year to year.