Health chiefs’ pledge to cancer patients

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THE target time period for those referred for urgent treatment after being diagnosed with suspected cancer has been missed during every quarter of the last year, figures show.

NHS guidelines stipulate that 85% of patients should wait a maximum of 62 days to begin their first definitive treatment following an urgent referral for suspected cancer from their GP but only 83.8% did so during the period from October to December.

This was a slight increase on the 83.5% seen during the previous three months, but means that the target has been missed during the last four quarters.

Figures released by NHS England revealed improvements in other areas, including the number of people seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer (94.7%), compared with 93.6% the previous quarter.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the failure to meet the two-month target for the fourth quarter in a row was a “scandal”.

“The deterioration in cancer care is a direct consequence of Government policies and the clearest proof the Tories can’t be trusted with the NHS.

“When it comes to cancer, speed is everything. Labour is committed to cancer tests and results within one week to help end this scandal.”

Sean Duffy, NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer, said that despite the missed target, the number of patients seeing a specialist within two weeks of visiting their GP had gone up by 44,000 compared with the same quarter a year earlier.

“But it’s crucial we focus on maintaining waiting time standards for treatment as demand increases so we are closely scrutinising these figures to pinpoint any issues on the ground,” he added.

Those suffering from skin cancer had an increase in waiting times, with 97.2% of patients beginning first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis between October and December, compared with 97.7% from July to September.

Meanwhile 99% of people treated for breast cancer began their first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis, up from 98.8% during the three months before, while the number of patients urgently referred for breast symptoms (where cancer was not initially suspected) seen within two weeks of referral went up to 94.9% from 93.5%

Dr Fran Woodard, director of policy and research at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is deeply concerning that the cancer waiting time targets have been breached once again in England. This marks a year of this target being consistently missed, a year in which we’ve barely seen any improvements. This shows a fundamental failure within the NHS.