More than seven in 10 NHS trusts did not see patients who were urgently referred for suspected cancer within two weeks, new analysis shows.
The NHS’s standard is that 93 per cent of people should see a consultant within 14 days from an urgent GP referral with suspected cancer.
The number not hitting the official target is the highest it’s been for at least three years, according to analysis by PA.
It found that 84 out of 117 trusts in England for whom there was complete data from August 2019 to August 2022 did not meet the target each year, on average.
This is nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of the 117 trusts, and included three that have never reached the target during the three years — University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust.
It comes after official statistics last week revealed almost 40,000 cancers went undiagnosed during the first year of Covid
In August alone, more than 60,000 people had to wait more than two weeks to see a cancer specialist after a GP referral in August alone, other new analysis by the Liberal Democrats shows.
People across the country face a postcode lottery, with some trusts seeing just a third of patients within the two-week target, while other trusts never miss the target, according to the research seen by the Daily Mail.
Trusts that have not met the target for more than two years include West Suffolk, which last hit it in December 2019, and Leeds Teaching Hospitals, which last reached the standard in March 2020, according to PA.
Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals and Oxford University Hospitals have not reached the target since May 2020.
North-West Anglia, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals, United Lincolnshire Hospitals and Country Durham & Darlington all achieved the target for just one month out of 37.
Naser Turabi, director of evidence and implementation at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Any cancer waiting times target that is missed is unacceptable.
In August, NHS England performed a record number of cancer checks. However, the graph shows the health service still failed to hit a key target to start treatment for the disease within two months of an urgent referral (red line) and near-record numbers of people were left waiting more than two months to have cancer ruled out or confirmed (blue lines)
NHS England figures show the five-year survival rates for different types of cancer. Rates are highest for lung, stomach and colon cancer
Lockdown’s collateral cancer timebomb
Almost 40,000 cancers went undiagnosed during the first year of Covid, according to official statistics last week which laid bare the ‘true and catastrophic impact’ of the pandemic.
Just 290,000 people in England were told they had cancer in 2020, down by roughly a tenth on one year earlier — the biggest drop logged since records began half a century ago. It was also the fewest annual diagnoses in a decade.
It means 100 fewer Britons daily were told they had cancer, equating to one every 13 minutes — prompting fears of a cancer timebomb. Half of the missed tumours are thought to be prostate and breast cancers.
The NHS prioritising Covid care, a lack of in-person appointments and the public avoiding the health service due to fear of catching the virus or adding to NHS pressures have all been blamed for the downturn.
Top experts today warned the figure is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as the backlog in diagnosis is ‘still present and actually growing’, with tens of thousands facing ‘agonising’ delays.
Continued Covid disruption means more Britons are living with missed and untreated serious cancers, which will cause cancer deaths to shoot up within years, doctors warned.
‘However, this target should be a minimum standard. The fact that it is now not being met just goes to show how strained our health service has become.
‘We expect the number of people going to the doctor about suspected cancer to fluctuate throughout the year, but the NHS should be equipped for that.
‘It’s also important to remember that it’s better to be on a waiting list than to sit at home with symptoms.
‘Listen to your body – if you sense something isn’t right, see your GP and persevere to get an appointment. Your doctor wants to hear from you.’
The data shows the best performing trusts are Calderdale & Huddersfield, East Kent Hospitals University and Portsmouth Hospitals University, which have never missed their operational standard of 93 per cent.
Medway Trust has consistently hit its target since May 2020, while Birmingham Women’s & Children’s Trust has hit it every month since August 2020.
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 you get to treatment, and it is really worrying for somebody’s prognosis.
‘If somebody starts treatment later, the more worrying the outcome could be in terms of their ability to survive their cancer, to have minimal after-effects after a treatment.
‘This is about survival and giving people the best chance and improving their quality of life ultimately.’
Liberal Democrat Health spokesman Daisy Cooper MP said the ‘grim postcode lottery’ when it comes to trusts’ cancer target performance was ‘a national scandal’.
‘The evidence tells us how critical a speedy cancer diagnosis is yet thousands of people are left waiting far too long. The sheer number of people anxiously waiting is completely unacceptable.
‘The Government must prioritise resources to clear record backlogs, slash dangerously long ambulance waiting times, and solve the healthcare postcode lottery.’
An NHS spokesman said: ‘In order to fully recover from the pandemic, GPs are now referring 20 per cent more patients every day than before the pandemic, which is good news as it will mean more people will get checked and diagnosed earlier.
‘The NHS is investing billions to expand diagnostic treatment capacity to meet this extra demand, and has written to trusts with the longest backlogs asking them to urgently set out plans to reduce cancer waits – helping them redesign their care to keep up with increased demand.’