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  1. ITV Report

Cancer patients forced to wait 'unacceptably' long time for NHS treatment

  • ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan on what the issues are in the NHS

Cancer patients in most NHS trusts are being forced to wait an "unacceptably" long time after referral before receiving their first treatment.

A report revealed only 38% of hospitals meet the 62-day standard from referral to treatment for cancer patients.

The waiting list for planned care has grown by one and a half million since March 2013 to 4.2 million in November 2018, the report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) showed.

With demand for treatment growing, some 22.5% of people waited longer than two months between an urgent GP referral and a first treatment for cancer.

Cancer patients are waiting too long for treatment. Credit: PA

One conclusion from the damning report was that the "impact on individuals" of long waiting times are being "ignored".

"It is unacceptable that less than half of NHS trusts and foundation trusts (trusts) meet the 18-week waiting times standard for elective treatment," said PAC chair Meg Hillier MP. She added: "We were troubled by the Department’s and NHS England’s approach to waiting times which seems to be characterised by gaps in understanding of: patient harm, hospital capacity and what is driving demand."

The new report has revealed most NHS hospital trusts are failing to meet waiting time targets. Credit: PA

Dr Moira Fraser-Pearce, director of policy and campaigns at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "For 41 months in a row, the target for the time it takes people to start cancer treatment following an urgent referral from their GP has been breached."

There has also been a huge rise in the number of NHS patients enduring trolley waits during the summer months, new data shows.

Trolley waits refer to the time A&E patients spend on trolleys or chairs while a bed is found for them.

New figures from NHS England show that, in May and June, 119,320 patients endured a trolley wait of more than four hours.

This is 63% higher than in the same two months in 2018, when there were 72,986 trolley waits.

It is also almost treble the number of four years ago, when there were 42,589 trolley waits in May and June 2015.

In June this year, 471 patients spent more than 12 hours on a trolley – 4.8 times more than in June 2018, when there were 99.

There were 528,808 emergency admissions in June, 3% higher than the same month last year.

There is often a bed shortage in NHS hospitals (stock image).

The data also showed record numbers of NHS patients waiting for planned treatment such as hip operations, with 245,079 forced to wait longer than six months.

Figures for May show that 87% of patients were treated within 18 weeks – below the target of 92%.

A record 4.39 million people were waiting for treatment, estimated to be 4.5 million when all trust data is taken into account.

The data also showed that just three major A&E departments met the target to treat or discharge patients within four hours in June.

The 62-day target has not been met for nearly three-and-a-half years.

The Royal College of Surgeons said Tory leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt “must act fast to stem rising NHS waiting times”.

One of the reasons for increased waiting times is that demand is growing. Credit: PA

The data does show improvement on long waits of more than a year.

There were 1,032 patients waiting over 52 weeks for treatment in May 2019, down from 3,100 in May 2018.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “Historically, the summer months have been a time of year when the NHS could catch its breath and recover performance following high demand over the winter.

“The monthly performance figures, including those released today, show that this is no longer the case.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “While the Health Secretary plays Tory leadership games, patients continue to suffer deteriorating care.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “Hospitals are reporting continuing staffing and bed pressures.

“Local areas across the NHS are now reviewing the extra staffing and capital investment in facilities and diagnostics they will need for the next five years, ahead of national decisions on these later this year.”