‘Appalling toll’ on patients and medics as NHS cancer and A&E performance falls to record low

Urgent action has been urged to tackle growing NHS waiting lists after latest figures showed almost one in four cancer patients do start treatment on time - the worst performance on record.

NHS data shows that the health service has missed its key cancer target for more than 1,000 days and A&E performance is also at a record low.

Hospitals are meant to start cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral and the NHS has a target for 85 per cent of patients to start treatment in the timeframe.

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Figures for January show the just 76.2 per cent of cancer patients treated within the target. The last time the target was met was in December 2015.

NHS England data also shows that only 84.2 per cent of patients in February were seen in A&E within four hours, the lowest proportion on record.

The target for patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours has not been met since July 2015 and some experts say it is unlikely the NHS could ever hit it again.

Dr Simon Walsh, emergency medicines lead at the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “It’s difficult to imagine the NHS in a much worse state, let alone the stress and appalling toll being taken on the health and wellbeing of both patients and doctors.

“It is hard to see how some of the ambitions contained in the government’s Long-term plan for the NHS can be realised unless the crisis in the NHS is addressed immediately and decisively.

“Patients and hard-pressed hospital doctors deserve so much better before lives are put at even more risk.”

The Royal College of Surgeons warned that hospitals are continuing to struggle with waiting lists for planned treatment.

Some 227,569 patients have been waiting more than six months for treatment, with 36,857 others waiting more than nine months for treatment, figures show.

In January, 86.7 per cent of patients were seen within 18 weeks, against a 92 per cent target.

The number of people waiting for treatment is at its highest level since October, with 4.16m people in January waiting to start treatment.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Behind each of these statistics is a patient waiting longer in pain and anguish.”

NHS England is currently reviewing hospital targets and could scrap both the 18-week target and the four-hour A&E standard.

An NHS spokeswoman said: “More people than ever before are coming forward for cancer checks, with a quarter of a million more people getting checked for cancer this year and thousands more being treated within the two month target.

“NHS England is investing an additional £10m this year to treat extra people and the NHS Long Term Plan sets out a range of ambitious measures to catch more cancers earlier, which will save thousands of lives every year.”