Hospitals missing cancer targets after urgent GP referral

Hospitals in England are taking too long to diagnose and treat lung, bowel and prostate cancers following urgent referral by GPs, official figures suggest.

Patients with lung, bowel and prostate cancers face longer waits for treatment
Patients with lung, bowel and prostate cancers face longer waits for treatment

Hospitals and other providers are judged against a national DH target that 85% of patients should wait no longer than 62 days to begin treatment after urgent referral for suspected cancer from their GP.

But in the last three months of 2012, hospitals in England missed this target in patients with lung, gastrointestinal and urological cancers, although they surpassed it for breast and skin cancers, DH statistics show.

A spokeswoman for Macmillan Cancer Support said: ‘It is extremely disappointing that despite meeting the overall waiting times targets hospitals are consistently missing this standard for treatment in cancer categories that include lung, bowel and prostate cancers.

‘Getting into treatment as early as possible gives cancer patients the best possible chance of survival. Missing the targets for these types of cancer mean these patients’ chances are potentially being put at risk.'

Across England, 87.9% of 30,362 patients began cancer treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral. However, this varied from 68% to 100% between providers.

A higher proportion of patients were treated within 62 days for breast (97.5%) and skin (97.1%) cancers than for lung (80.4%), lower gastrointestinal (79.9%) and urological, excluding testicular, (84.2%) cancers.

DH statistics also showed 25 out of 171 providers began treating fewer than 85% of patients within 62 days, although six of these providers were seeing fewer than 50 patients.

Performance against other DH cancer treatment targets was better. All but seven of the 169 providers in the statistics met the target to see 93% of urgent referrals within two weeks. The national average was 95.8%.

Across England, 98.5% of patients were treated with 31 days of diagnosis.

A DH spokeswoman said: 'Cancer waiting times continue to remain broadly stable with the vast majority of patients - 95.8 per cent - being seen by a specialist within two weeks of referral from their GP.

'We want our cancer services to be the best in the world which is why every cancer patient should get quick and easy access to a specialist. Local NHS organisations should work hard to make sure this happens.'

Responding to the variations between providers, the spokeswoman said: 'Local NHS teams will need to look at the reasons why their performance is lagging behind the national benchmark and address these issues to ensure that all patients benefit from the same level of access to services.'

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