NHS heads for record number of cancer patients failing to get treatment on time


The NHS is on track for a record number of cancer patients not receiving treatment on time.

Some 20,137 patients in England have had to wait longer than two months to start treatment - a key NHS cancer target - following an urgent referral to hospital by their GP, figures for 2015/16 to date show.

In the whole of the previous year, 21,407 patients were not treated within the two-month target, while more than 55,000 have not been treated on time since 2012.

The target is for 85% of patients to be seen within two months of urgent referral.

It has now been missed for almost two years and was last hit annually in 2013/14 when 85.9% of patients were seen within the target.

The latest data, published by NHS England, shows 82.3% of patients were seen within the target for 2015/16 to date, while 83.4% were seen in the previous year.

The number of patients needing urgent referrals for cancer treatment has been rising steadily in recent years.

In 2012/13, 87.2% of patients were referred (116,528 patients), with 101,632 treated within the target and 14,896 waiting longer.

In 2014/15, 128,642 were referred, of whom 107,235 received a first treatment on time and 21,407 waited longer.

And in the year to date, 113,901 patients have been referred, with 93,764 treated on time and 20,137 waiting longer.

An NHS England spokesman said: "The NHS is helping more people survive cancer than ever before and we've met and exceeded seven of the eight cancer waiting time standards.

"Swift diagnosis is key and these figures show that more people than ever are seeing a specialist within two weeks of visiting their GP.

"The Independent Cancer Taskforce has made a number of recommendations to support earlier diagnosis and better treatment, and we are working with partners across the health system to take these forward as quickly as possible."

The data comes as monthly figures show A&E delays in England have reached record levels.

The data for January showed 88.7% of patients were seen and dealt with in four hours, against a target of 95%.

This is the worst monthly performance since the target was introduced in 2004.

NHS England blamed rising demand, with overall attendances up by more than 10% compared with the same time last year. 

Richard Barker, from NHS England, said: "Against this backdrop it's not surprising hospitals saw a dip in their performance and it is credit to all those working in emergency care that we are still admitting, treating and discharging almost nine in 10 patients within four hours.

"Winter pressures have come late this year with a sustained cold period and an increase in seasonal infections."

The target to see patients needing routine operations within 18 weeks was also missed for the second month in a row, the data showed.

Twice as many people also waited six weeks or longer for a diagnostic test, while ambulances and NHS 111 also missed key targets.

There were also 5,799 hospital patients stuck in hospital beds - so-called "bed blockers" -  at midnight on the last Thursday of January 2016.

This was the highest number patients delayed at midnight on the last Thursday of a month since monthly data was first collected in August 2010.