Shropshire Star

NHS missing target for cancer treatment

More than 15 per cent of Shropshire cancer patients waited two months or more to start treatment after a referral from their GP.

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New figures showed that between October 2017 and September 2018, 1,091 cancer patients were urgently referred to hospital within Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group's area, but 180 did not start their treatment within 62 days.

Of the 477 of Telford & Wrekin CCG's patients, 80 had not been seen within two months. The Government has a target of 85 per cent of referrals to start treatment within two months.

This is to allow for the minority of patients who choose to delay their course of treatment. This may include chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy.

In Shropshire CCG, 84 per cent of patients began treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral, slightly below the NHS target.

That is higher than in 2016-17, when 83 per cent of patients started treatment two months after referral.

The latest time period, June to September, was the worst on record in England for cancer waiting times. Around three quarters of CCGs missed the GP referral target.

The best record is in Surrey Heath CCG where 92 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within two months. But in Thurrock CCG, Essex, it was just 63 per cent.

Dr Julie Davies, director of performance and delivery at Shropshire CCG and a spokesperson from Telford and Wrekin CCG, said: “Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust who we commission to provide cancer services in the county’s two main hospitals, have managed to achieve the target of 85 per cent of referrals to start treatment within two months.

“The two CCGs performances have continued to be above the national average in the first two quarters of the year.

“There is a lot of work going on to support treatment times for cancer patients to tackle what is a national problem.

“We are working on recovery plans with Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust as our main provider of services in the areas where improvement is needed. Patient numbers are going up and here in Shropshire we have seen a five per cent increase. We are also seeing patients with more complex cases. This means their cases take longer and they may already be having treatment.

"Treatment decisions are made with the patient to help them get the right care and some patients also want time to consider what their options may be.”

Dr Fran Woodard, executive director of policy and impact at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “These figures are further evidence of a worrying trend which demonstrates that the pressure on cancer services is truly beginning to bite.

"We must not forget that at the heart of these figures are thousands of cancer patients anxiously waiting for referral for diagnosis or to start treatment.”

She said it is "imperative" the Government addresses the challenges facing the workforce in the NHS Long Term Plan.

"We cannot expect world-class cancer care for patients in the future without enough staff with the right skills to deliver it."

Across England the percentage of patients starting treatment within two months has dropped from 87% in 2012-2013, to 80% in the first half of 2018-19.

The operational target hasn't been hit since 2013.

Dr Nicola Strickland, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: "More evidence of the ongoing downward trend away from the NHS’s 62 day referral to treatment target is stark but unsurprising in view of the increasing referral rates for suspected cancer.

"The cancer care system is having to treat more and more patients with rationed workforce, equipment and support, when it urgently needs more capacity."

Dr Strickland said more oncologists and radiologists need to be recruited urgently.

She added: "It’s hard to imagine waiting time figures improving anytime soon."

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "Thanks to greater awareness, more people are coming forward for prostate cancer checks, the NHS is treating more patients than ever before, and NHS England recently announced an injection of £10m to treat the extra people coming forward.”