Cancer care service needs skilled staff

The target aims to ensure almost all patients start treatment in two months
The target aims to ensure almost all patients start treatment in two months

More than 85 per cent of cancer patients started their treatment within two months after a referral from their GP, with Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group hitting the NHS target.

Between October 2017 and September 2018, 850 cancer patients were referred to hospital urgently by their doctors, and 97 did not start their treatment within 62 days, according to the latest NHS figures.

That means 89 per cent were seen within two months, clearing the Government’s operational target of 85 per cent.

The target aims to ensure almost all patients start treatment in two months.

However, it does allow for a minority of patients who choose to delay their course of treatment. This may include chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy.

Wigan Borough CCG’s figure is lower than in 2016-17, when 91 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 percentage of patients starting treatment within two months has dropped from 87 per cent in 2012-2013, to 80 per cent in the first half of 2018-19. Nationally the target hasn’t been hit since 2013.

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

Commenting on the national figures, 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.”

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.”

Dr Nicola Strickland, president of The Royal College of Radiologists, said: “More evidence of the ongoing downward trend away from the NHS’ 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.”

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.”