‘Hidden Crisis’ in Suffolk NHS as one in five cancer patients wait months for treatment

BMA council chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul. Photo: BMA

BMA council chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul. Photo: BMA - Credit: BMA

More than one in five cancer patients have been forced to wait over two months for treatment in Suffolk prompting calls from senior doctors for more funding for the ‘struggling’ NHS.

Figures released by NHS digital show that all three trusts in Suffolk recorded waiting times below the national target in between December and February, leaving hundreds of cancer patients to wait months for their first treatment.

The UK target is for 85% of cancer patients to be treated within 62 days of referral however, only 82% were treated in that time period in West Suffolk, 81% at James Paget hospital and 74% at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals.

During the same period 978 people received their first cancer treatment across the region. Of those treated, 25 people were forced to wait for more than 104 days for care,

The British Medical Association (BMA), a union who represent doctors across the UK have said that diagnosing cancer and then leaving patients to wait is leaving them “in limbo”.

BMA council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “Behind these statistics are stories of real lives in distress. Forcing a patient to wait two months for their first cancer treatment is shameful for a leading nation and as a doctor, I can imagine only too well the distress this will cause to them and their families.

“The Government needs to realise that the crisis in the NHS is not going away as our health service struggles in an underfunded and understaffed environment against a backdrop of rising patient demand.”

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Suffolk hospitals are mostly above the national target for patients seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of GP urgent referral.

Both West Suffolk hospital and James Paget Hospital are above the target for 93% of patients to be seen withing two weeks of being referred; however, Ipswich and Colchester was below, only seeing 88% of patients.

BMA consultants committee chair and East of England rep, Dr Rob Harwood, said: “This analysis from the BMA lays bare the extent of the pressure facing services in the East of England as they are struggling with the ever-growing demand on services. The region has fallen below the national target. This can be an incredibly stressful and nerve wracking experience for patients.”

What do the hospitals have to say?

West Suffolk Hospital:

Helen Beck, chief operating officer for the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We know how much the quality of cancer care and the speed of treatment matters to our local community.

“It’s clearly disappointing to miss the standards we strive for in any month, but we’re delighted that we have improved our cancer waiting times since these figures were produced.

“In March, 88% of our patients started cancer treatment within 62 days, against a national target of 85%.

“West Suffolk as an area has one of the best cancer survival rates in the country at 74.1% for one year after diagnosis, and this is largely down to high-quality, good partnership working across the healthcare system, and the dedication of staff.

“We are committed to continuing to play our part in maintaining these high standards.

“The timeliness of cancer treatment is of course a priority, especially as more people are being urgently referred and treated for cancer than ever before.

“By making sure we see people quickly, we can ensure fewer people are left feeling anxious and that they start their treatment as soon as possible.”

James Paget Hospital:

Chief Operating Officer Joanne Segasby said:

“The James Paget was consistently achieving the 62-day target throughout the autumn but an increase of more than 10% in referrals during the busy winter period resulted in the target being missed from December to February.

“As a result, an action plan was drawn up which has seen the hospital increase its diagnostic capacity and clinic capacity in the last few months, to meet patient demand.

“Latest data shows we have now improved our position and have met the target for March 2019.”

East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust:

Neill Moloney, Managing Director of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust said: “Making sure that we see all patients within the national access standards for cancer services (which includes the 62 day target) is one of the top priorities for the Trust.

“Much work has been undertaken to make sure that we consistently achieve these standards which are very important. We are making improvements but really do appreciate that in some areas we have more to do before we absolutely achieve these standards for every single patient which is our ambition.

“We have a plan to achieve the national access standard of patients being seen within the 62-day target by June of this year. We give our sincere apologies to any of our patients who have waited more than 62 days and give you our commitment to continue to improve.”

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