More than a quarter of West Hertfordshire Hospitals cancer patients waiting too long for treatment

Macmillan Cancer Support said the statistics reveal the enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on cancer services

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 2:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 2:10 pm

More than a quarter of cancer patients at West Hertfordshire Hospitals had been waiting longer than two months for treatment in February, figures show.

As NHS performance against the two-month target hit a record low nationally, Macmillan Cancer Support said the latest statistics reveal the enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on cancer services.

NHS data shows that at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT), just 73.4 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in February.

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That was down from 83.1 per cent in January, but above the record low 50 per cent recorded in July 2014.

It means 19 patients had waited longer than two months in February, and the trust fell below the 85 per cent target introduced over a decade ago.

Across England, just 69.7 per cent of patients received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral in February – the worst performance on record.

WHHT chief operating officer Sally Tucker said: “We are always extremely sorry if a patient experiences delay to their treatment.

"As a trust we have cared for high numbers of Covid patients and hit the peak of the second wave in January 2021 which naturally had an impact on our services.

"We prioritise the most clinically urgent patients at all times, but unfortunately it isn’t always possible to offer treatment dates to every patient within the 62 day period.

"However, our latest performance figures show that in March 2021 with far fewer Covid patients we have met six out of the eight national cancer treatment targets including the 62 day treatment target.”

As NHS performance against the two-month target hit a record low nationally, Macmillan Cancer Support said the latest statistics reveal the enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on cancer services.

It means the NHS target has now not been met for nearly three years.

And while there were slightly more referrals for urgent cancer investigations in February compared to the previous month, Macmillan said the number of people starting treatment "remains lower than it would expect".

Sara Bainbridge, the charity's head of policy, said: “This data further illustrates the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment.

"It’s vital that cancer services continue to be prioritised and that those with cancer are not forgotten.

"To address the extensive challenges that lie ahead, the NHS urgently needs a long-term, fully funded plan for its workforce, ensuring there are more dedicated staff who are able to provide the best care for cancer patients, now and in the future."

Health workers have faced enormous pressures throughout the pandemic, which has pushed up hospital waiting times.

A group of MPs, charities and Royal Colleges are calling on the Government to provide urgent funding for cancer services to tackle the Covid-19 induced backlog and "save thousands of lives."

A declaration, signed by doctors and organisations including Cancer Research UK and the Institute of Cancer Policy, says: "We further urge the Government to recognise that to catch up with the cancer backlog, NHS services need the tools to “super-boost” capacity above pre-pandemic levels."

"This means revisiting aspects of the Budget and Spending Review to ring-fence urgent cancer investment."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government is committed to providing high quality cancer care, with cancer diagnosis and treatment remaining "a top priority" throughout the pandemic.

"More than 2.5 million urgent referrals were made within waiting time targets in the past year alone and for every coronavirus patient, two cancer patients received treatment," they added.