NHS hospitals have missed the 85% target for 62-day cancer waiting times for all but one of the last 29 months, new performance data has revealed.
The monthly data from NHS England for September found that just 81.4% of patients began their first definitive treatment within 62 days from an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer.
This is despite Jeremy Hunt’s remarks at the King’s Fund on Wednesday, which said the NHS is “not being given enough credit” for improving healthcare access over the last six years.
He said: “In cancer care we are doing 16,000 more diagnostic tests everyday, 130 more people are starting treatment for cancer everyday [compared to six years ago].
“And by any account that is a massive expansion in access to healthcare even if some of the access targets are not being met.”
Tom Cottam, policy manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The last thing somebody with cancer needs is to have to wait at such a difficult time. It can cause real anguish to those going through treatment, as well as people close to them. People with cancer must be able to approach treatment knowing that everything possible was done to get it started in a timely way in the first place.
“The latest figures show performance for this target is not improving, which is an ominous sign as the NHS approaches the crunch winter months. Despite announcing support for struggling trusts earlier this year, the NHS in England is still failing to meet a vital cancer target. This is concerning, and unless urgent action is taken, people with cancer will continue to experience delays that make a tough time even tougher.”
The performance data also revealed that the number of delayed transfers of care increased on last year with 196,246 delayed days in September 2016, compared to 147,738 in September 2015 – the highest number since monthly data were first collected in August 2010.
Hospital A&E departments also missed their target of admitting, transferring or discharging 95% of patients from A&E within four hours of arrival – achieving a rate of only 90.6%.
Richard Murray, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said the figures are “deeply concerning” as the number of patients ready to be discharged but delayed in hospital reaches record levels.
He said: “Delayed discharges are a third higher than this time last year and the rate of increase is accelerating.
“The inexorable rise in the number of delayed discharges underlines the impact of cuts in social care on the NHS. Budget cuts and rising demand will leave adult social care facing a £1.9 billion funding gap next year. The government must address this in the upcoming Autumn Statement.
“Deteriorating performance against A&E targets and longer waits for patients to get routine treatment once again highlight the impossible task of meeting rising demand for services while maintaining standards of care within current funding constraints.”