Cancer patients at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust left waiting too long for treatment
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Analysis of national data by Cancer Research UK revealed the target – aimed at making sure the majority of patients sent for urgent cancer investigations are seen within two months – has been missed across England for more than half a decade.
The charity is calling for major investment in services it says were struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic.
The NHS states 85% of cancer patients urgently referred by a GP should start treatment within 62 days.
NHS England data shows East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust only met the target in two months between April 2019 – when comparable trust-level figures began – and July this year.
In July, just 72% of patients received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral.
That was up from 27% in June, but a fall from 79% in July last year.
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.
Prof Swanton added: "The Government has to commit to long term investment in workforce and kit so that we can turn things around and give patients both the care and outcomes they deserve.”
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.