News portal digitalcameranews.co.uk

One in four cancer patients wait two months for treatment, as NHS performance hits record low 

NHS leaders said hospitals are at breaking point 

The number of cancer sufferers waiting at least two months for treatment after an urgent referral from their doctor is the highest on record, official figures show.

Almost one quarter of patients are being forced to wait longer for surgery or radiotherapy, with a steep decline in recent performance.

The data shows the worst Accident & Emergency (A&E) performance in 15 years, while the number of patients waiting at least six months for operations has risen by one third in a year.

It comes just days after health officials signalled that both the flagship four hour A&E target and an 18 week target for operations could be axed.

NHS leaders today said hospitals had been “stretched to breaking point” while charities warned that such goals could not be reached without a major expansion in staff numbers.

Hospitals are meant to start cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, with the target stating that 85 per cent of patients should start treatment within this time frame.

But figures for January show the worst performance on record, with just 76.2 per cent of cancer patients treated within two months, a drop from 81 per cent the month before.

Meanwhile, just 84.2 per cent of A&E patients seen in February were seen in four hours, the lowest proportion on record.

Waiting time targets were missed, with just 86.7 per cent of patients in need of operations like hip and knee surgery having them within 18 weeks. It is almost three years since the target was hit. The number waiting at least six months rose by 31 per cent in a year, with 227,569 waiting longer.

An NHS spokesman said: "More people than ever before are coming forward for cancer checks, with a quarter of a million more people getting checked for cancer this year and thousands more being treated within the two month target.”

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

He said almost a quarter of a million more people have been seen and treated within four hours in A&E this winter compared to last year.

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: “These figures show an NHS under continued strain, with many patients still waiting too long to get a diagnosis and start treatment. For anyone going through tests and treatment for cancer, it’s an incredibly anxious time, and delays can make that worse.

“Staff are working harder than ever to meet targets and look after the growing number of people coming through the system for tests – which should mean more cancers can be picked up sooner, but sadly there simply aren’t enough staff to deliver the amount of tests required.”

Sally Greenbrook, Policy Manager at Breast Cancer Now, said women were left facing "agonising" waits before even receiving a diagnosis. 

Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers said: “The resilience and dedication shown by staff to patient care throughout a very sustained period of pressure and demand is extraordinary, but there is only so much that trusts can do when resources are already stretched to breaking point.”

Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing Acting Director for England, said the figures were “shocking”.

She highlighted a rise in trolley waits, with more than 500 patients waiting more than 12 hours on trolleys for a hospital bed last month after going to A&E, 41 per cent more than this time last year.  

Nuffield Trust Professor John Appleby said the recent decline in performance on cancer waiting times was “sharp and concerning”.

He welcomed plans from NHS England to pilot new ways of measuring waiting times.  But he said it would be hard for the public to have faith that it was not an attempt to “lower the bar” while queues continued to worsen.

Add comment