Nearly one-in-five people (18%) have not began their first definitive treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred for suspected cancer by their GP, new NHS England statistics revealed.
However, Dr Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, recognised that general practice was not to blame. She said: “In the last five years the number of cancer referrals has leapt by 645,000 or 71%, meaning GPs are increasingly spotting the warning signs early and referring people for tests.”
Yesterday, NHS England published its first set of monthly data covering key areas of urgent and emergency care, cancer treatment and patient waiting times, following a recommendation from Sir Bruce Keogh that this information should be published once a month on the same day.
It found that 28.6% of people referred for lung cancer don’t get seen within 62 days, compared to 28.5% with lower gastrointestinal cancers, 25.2% with urological cancers, just 4.3% for skin cancer and 3.4% for breast cancer.
In response to the findings, Dr Fran Woodard, director of policy and research at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This is now the worst result in a single quarter for six years; there are more than 6,000 people waiting over 62 days after an urgent GP referral to first treatment, up from 5,704 in the last quarter.
“Delays in accessing treatment can often leave people feeling upset, anxious or distressed. We have a duty to give these people timely access to treatment at what can be an incredibly difficult and isolating time in their lives,” she added.
The delays are due to NHS pressure, she said, and can be addressed by coordinating the effort across the system, which there is an “urgent need” to do.
There are two million people currently living with cancer in England, according to the latest estimates.
“In order to address these problems and ensure everyone with cancer gets the best possible care and support throughout their treatment and beyond, Macmillan is urging the government and the NHS to fully fund and implement the recommendations in the recent Cancer Strategy for England,” Woodard urged.