The government target for treating those diagnosed with cancer has slipped for the first time since its introduction during 2009.
According to NHS England guidelines, 85% of patients should wait not wait more than 62 days to have their first treatment after referral from their general practitioner. However, figures indicate that this slipped to 84.4% for the period from January to March 2014.
Macmillan Cancer Support and Charities Cancer Research UK have both stated that this is a worrying sign.
The target for maintaining this guideline fell from 85.8% during the last quarter in 2013, to 84.4% during this year’s first quarter.
The director of policy and research at Macmillan Cancer Support, Mike Hobday, said the number of trusts that had missed the set target has doubled over the past 12 months. He said that this is a clear warning sign of the strain that has been placed on the NHS. The UK has one of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe. He said that more patients have to face delays which mean their levels of anxiety are increased for longer periods of time and more lives have been placed at risk.
Mr Hobday said that the charity is concerned about the worsening of cancer care and that in the new NHS cancer is being overlooked.
He stated that the number of cancer patients is set to increase from two to three million by 2020.
The executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK, Sarah Woolnough, said that this breach of the target is extremely worrying, particularly since four out of 10 patients who are not treated within two months are experiencing a wait of three months and more. She said the targets exist to allow for quick diagnosis and treatment access, which is very important for the improvement of survival rates.
She stated that patients want to feel confident that suspected cancer is being viewed in a serious light and priority is given to it by the NHS. The charity hopes that urgent action will be taken to ensure that this will remain a single decline in figures.
The national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, Sean Duffy, said that the national figures indicate that the NHS has met and surpassed seven of eight cancer waiting time guidelines. However, they are experiencing variations in meeting the challenge of the standards, and the national performance for one target has declined.
He stated that clinical commissioning groups were working with the local providers in the areas that have not met the standard to ensure quick treatment of patients.
Other figures indicated a decline from 95.6% to 95% in the number of patients seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer. The target for patients with urgent referrals for breast symptoms, where cancer is not suspected has seen a decline from previous figures of 95.5% to 93.9%. The target for this category is 93%.
Image Credit: Francisco Osorio