Cancer investigation waiting times still being missed
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Two hospitals have consistently breached a key cancer waiting time target for just over two years, figures show.
Latest data shows that East Suffolk and North Essex Trust (ESNEFT) fell behind the target – aimed at making sure the majority of patients sent for urgent cancer investigations are seen within two months – along with many other units across the country.
But Cancer Research UK is calling for major investment in services which it says were struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic brought added problems and pressures.
The NHS states 85% of cancer patients urgently referred by a GP should start treatment within 62 days.
But NHS England data shows ESNEFT, which runs Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals, missed the target every month between April 2019 – when comparable trust-level figures began – and July this year.
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In July, just 79% of patients received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral.
That was down from both 81% in June and 84% in July last year.
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Across England, just 72% of patients received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral in July.
The NHS target was last met nationally in December in 2015, while annual performance has worsened year-on-year since 2017.
Cancer Research UK said pressures caused by the pandemic, including a growing list of patients, were a factor, but also laid blame on workforce shortages and insufficient infrastructure.
Professor Charles Swanton, the charity's chief clinician, said: "For people with cancer, every day counts – that is why we have cancer targets.
"I've been working in the NHS for a long time and it’s hard to watch the continuous deterioration, and the anxiety and worsening outcomes this can cause patients."
The charity said a radical reform of screening and diagnostic services was needed, backed up by long-term investment from the upcoming spending review by the Government at the end of October.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was providing record investment for the NHS, including an additional £9 billion for elective and cancer care.
A spokesperson said cancer diagnosis and treatment had remained "a top priority" throughout the pandemic.
"Almost half a million people were checked for cancer in June and July which is among the highest numbers ever," they added.
ESNEFT deputy chief executive Neill Moloney said: “Keeping our promises to patients and achieving the national standard of treating people with cancer within 62 days of a GP referral is very important to us. Our teams have been working hard to manage the rise in referral numbers and to reduce waiting times, including running additional clinics where possible.
“We are continuing to see referrals increase, which means that people are coming forward and visiting their GPs with symptoms – this is so important. The sooner any potential problems are diagnosed, the more effective cancer care and treatment will be.”