Official figures show the NHS in England missed a key cancer waiting times target for four successive quarters last year.
At least 85% of patients who are referred by their GPs for suspected cancer should begin their treatment within 62 days. Between October and December 2014 however, only 83.8% of patients were treated in time – the fourth successive quarter that the target was breached.
Every time these targets are missed it means thousands of NHS patients are being failed. This is not just about targets. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in improving the chances of surviving cancer.
The figures reveal that 68 trusts failed to meet the NHS waiting times target which means more than 5,000 extremely anxious and potentially very sick people were forced to wait more than two months to begin urgent treatment. That is a huge failing.
The good news is that some NHS targets are being met, including the target for getting 93% of patients with suspected cancer to see a specialist within two weeks of a GP referral. Furthermore 44,000 more patients saw a specialist within two weeks of visiting their GP compared to the same quarter last year.
In terms of cancer treatment however, for the last four quarters respectively from January to December 2014, just 83.8%, 83.5%, 84.1% and 84.2% of patients began their treatment within 62 days of being referred by their GPs. Put simply, the “62 day target” for treating cancer wasn’t met for an entire 12 months.
Between October and December 2014, targets were missed for patients with lower gastrointestinal cancer, suspected lung cancer, and urological cancers, while 96.5% of suspected breast cancer patients and 94.6% of people with possible skin cancers began their treatment on time.
The NHS is currently dealing with 700,000 more cancer admissions this parliament than the last - a significant increase. Furthermore, survival rates have risen to record levels. However, we need to do more to ensure these targets are met and patients with suspected cancer are treated at the earliest possible opportunity to increase their odds of survival.
Early diagnosis of cancer is key. At present, too many people are waiting far too long for their treatment and it is paramount the NHS strives to maintain these waiting time standards as demand increases.
Stephen Jones is a Senior Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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