NHS cancer treatment waits at worst ever level

New NHS figures have shown that worrying numbers of patients are not getting vital cancer care on time because performance against waiting time targets has dropped to its lowest level on record.

The NHS Combined Performance Summary shows that, between April and November 2018, 124,133 people from 1,497,657 referrals were outside the target two week wait from GP urgent referral to first consultant appointment, representing a 60.3 per cent increase in breaches of the target and a 14.8 per cent increase in referrals compared to the same months of the previous year.

More than 18,000 suspected cancer patients each month are now not getting to see a specialist or starting their treatment within prescribed timescales, with NHS England’s latest performance data indicating that hospitals are being forced to make patients wait for care because they cannot keep up with the growing numbers being referred by GPs.

The data shows 14,634 people did not see a specialist cancer consultant within 14 days in November last year, despite two weeks being the supposed maximum length of time anyone referred by their GP should have to wait. Furthermore,  2,884 people could not start their treatment inside 62 days, and a further 894 did not begin their treatment within 31 days.

Fran Woodard, Macmillan Cancer Support’s executive director of policy and impact, said: “Behind these figures are people waiting anxiously for a diagnosis and treatment, during a period when lives are already being turned upside down, despite the best efforts of NHS staff facing greater demand for their services and increased pressures.”

Patricia Marquis, director of the RCN in England, said: “Improving cancer survival rates is a core aim of the NHS long term plan so the sharp increase in breaches of the two-week target is very worrying. Tens of thousands of patients and their families are enduring agonising waits, all too aware that a small delay could have a serious impact.

“This further highlights the need for a fully funded workforce strategy with staffing levels enshrined in law to ensure we have the right number of staff with the right skills to deliver the long term plan. This is the challenge we put to the government.”

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