Shropshire Star

NHS England demands plan to improve lagging urgent cancer checks in Shropshire

County health bosses have been ordered to come up with a plan to improve the speed of urgent cancer checks.

Shropshire bosses received the demand from NHS England.

It has emerged that NHS England wrote to chief executives of six under-performing integrated care boards (ICB) – including Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin, about the issue last month.

All six were singled out for action over their performance on the 'faster diagnostic standard' (FDS) which requires ICBs to diagnose or rule out urgent cancer referrals within 28 days.

All of the organisations concerned had diagnosed or ruled out less than 70 per cent of cases within the target.

For Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin ICB the figures were the worst of all those listed, with just 63.8 per cent meeting the FDS in February.

The other ICBs included in the letter were Frimley, Lincolnshire, Mid and South Essex, Somerset, and Suffolk and North East Essex.

The demand for improvements comes from three of NHS England's top bosses – Sir David Sloman – chief operating officer, Dame Cally Palmer – national cancer director, and Vin Diwaker – medical director for secondary care, medical director for transformation.

The letter outlines how improving waiting times for suspected cancer will be a major focus for the NHS over the next 12 months.

It states: "We know that shorter waits are important both for those with confirmed cancer, where earlier diagnosis leads to better clinical outcomes, but also for those patients who do not have cancer, where swiftly delivered results can minimise what is a period of understandable anxiety.

"Improving waiting times for patients referred for urgent suspected cancer will be a critical priority for the NHS over the coming year."

The letter makes a series of demands of the ICBs concerned, including the creation of a plan for "improvements in their most challenged cancer pathways and diagnostic modalities in order to improve FDS performance".

It adds: "The plan will need to outline the present and planned volumes of urgent suspected cancer pathway tests being done at system level and turnaround times measured against a 10-day benchmark from referral to report."

Another area highlighted for focus is to 'commit to prioritising capacity for prostate MRI where this could be used by providers to support achievement of the Prostate Cancer Best Practice Timed Pathway.'

Local bosses are also asked to 'commit to their trusts demonstrating improvement against the 10-day report turnaround time target for histopathology services by March 2024, through putting in place a comprehensive performance improvement plan for trusts not already meeting that target'.

Across the country ICBs are using new 'community diagnostics centres' to speed up cancer testing.

Shropshire does not yet have an operating community diagnostics centre but one is set to open this summer – at Hollinswood House in Telford.

The latest figures are another example of the continuing pressure on the county's NHS services.

In April it was confirmed that the 12-hour waits experienced by county patients at A&E were the worst in England.

The figures showed that 1,885 of the 8,740 patients who attended A&E in the county waited more than 12 hours – a total of 21.6 per cent.

NHS Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin has been contacted for comment.

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