More than a fifth of East Lancashire Hospitals cancer patients waiting too long for treatment

More than a fifth of cancer patients at East Lancashire Hospitals had been waiting longer than two months for treatment in February, figures show.

As NHS performance against the two-month target hit a record low nationally, Macmillan Cancer Support said the latest statistics reveal the enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on cancer services.

NHS data shows that at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, just 79% of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in February.

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It means 21 patients had waited longer than two months in February, and the trust fell below the 85% target introduced over a decade ago.

A total of 79% cancer patients at East Lancashire Hospitals Trust started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in February.

However, the figure was up from the 69% seen in January.

Across England, just 69.7% of patients received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral in February – the worst performance on record.

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It means the NHS target has now not been met for nearly three years.

And while there were slightly more referrals for urgent cancer investigations in February compared to the previous month, Macmillan said the number of people starting treatment "remains lower than it would expect".

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Sara Bainbridge, the charity's head of policy, said: “This data further illustrates the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment.

"It’s vital that cancer services continue to be prioritised and that those with cancer are not forgotten.

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"To address the extensive challenges that lie ahead, the NHS urgently needs a long-term, fully funded plan for its workforce, ensuring there are more dedicated staff who are able to provide the best care for cancer patients, now and in the future."

Health workers have faced enormous pressures throughout the pandemic, which has pushed up hospital waiting times.

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A group of MPs, charities and Royal Colleges are calling on the Government to provide urgent funding for cancer services to tackle the Covid-19 induced backlog and "save thousands of lives."

A declaration, signed by doctors and organisations including Cancer Research UK and the Institute of Cancer Policy, says: "We further urge the Government to recognise that to catch up with the cancer backlog, NHS services need the tools to “super-boost” capacity above pre-pandemic levels."

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"This means revisiting aspects of the Budget and Spending Review to ring-fence urgent cancer investment."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government is committed to providing high quality cancer care, with cancer diagnosis and treatment remaining "a top priority" throughout the pandemic.

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"More than 2.5 million urgent referrals were made within waiting time targets in the past year alone and for every coronavirus patient, two cancer patients received treatment," they added.

Sharon Gilligan, Chief Operating Officer, at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said: “Throughout the pandemic we have continued to treat as many people as possible whilst also focusing on caring for the thousands of patients admitted to hospital with Covid.”

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“I want to reassure everyone that we are doing everything we can by monitoring and reducing our waiting lists meticulously in line with speciality and national guidance. We have a phased approach in place to ensure the most urgent treatments and cases are prioritised. We are also making use of our two surgical robots who have helped to continue treatment performing ground breaking surgery.

“In February, 77 of the 97 patients referred received cancer treatment within 62 days whilst also supporting more than 574 Covid positive patients. I understand how difficult it is to be waiting for treatment and can assure all of our patients that our staff are working tirelessly with partners across Lancashire and South Cumbria to reduce waiting times for all of our patients.”