People with suspected cancer in England face an increased risk of “worrying” outcomes due to unacceptable delays in being referred to hospital, experts say, as figures show seven in 10 National Health Service trusts fail to achieve a key objective.
The number of NHS trusts missing the national target for urgent cancer referrals is the highest in at least three years, according to analysis of NHS data.
In England, the maximum waiting time for a hospital appointment for suspected cancer is two weeks from the day the hospital receives a referral letter from a GP. At least 93% of patients should be seen within 14 days, according to the NHS.
But analysis by the Pennsylvania News Agency, using data from August 2019 to August 2022, shows this goal is routinely being missed, putting patients at higher risk for poor outcomes.
Minesh Patel, Head of Policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “There are huge pressures even at that early stage of the cancer pathway, let alone when it comes to treatment, and it’s really concerning for someone’s prognosis.
“If someone starts treatment later, the more worrying the outcome might be in terms of their ability to survive cancer, to have minimal side effects after a treatment. It’s about surviving and giving people the best opportunity and improving their quality of life, ultimately.”
The analysis includes 117 trusts in England for which there is complete data for the last three years. The 12-month moving average for the number of under-target trusts currently stands at 84 of 117, the highest number during this period.
Three trusts missed the target once during the three years: the Birmingham University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Newcastle upon Tyne University Hospital NHS Trust. North Middlesex.
Trusts that have missed the target for more than two years include West Suffolk, which last hit the target in December 2019, and Leeds University Hospitals, which last hit the standard in March 2020.
Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals and Oxford University Hospitals have all fallen short of the target since May 2020, according to the analysis.
North-west Anglia, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals, United Lincolnshire and Country Durham and Darlington Hospitals achieved the target in just one month out of 37.
Naser Turabi, director of evidence and implementation at Cancer Research UK, said: “Any cancer waiting time target that is missed is unacceptable. However, this goal should be a minimum standard. The fact that it is not being enforced now just shows how strained our health service has become.”
The analysis found that the best performing trusts were Calderdale and Huddersfield, East Kent University Hospitals Trust and Portsmouth University Hospitals, which did not once lose their 93% operating standard.
The Medway Trust has consistently hit its target since May 2020, while the Birmingham Women and Children Trust has hit it every month since August 2020.
An NHS England spokesman said: “To fully recover from the pandemic, doctors are now referring 20% more patients every day than before the pandemic, which is good news as it will mean more people will be reviewed and diagnosed before.
“The NHS is investing billions to expand diagnostic treatment capacity to meet this additional demand, and has written to the trusts with the longest arrears asking them to put in place urgent plans to reduce cancer waiting times, helping them redesign their care. to keep up with the increased demand. ”