NHS guidelines stipulate that 85% of patients should wait a maximum of 62 days to begin their first definitive treatment following an urgent referral for suspected cancer from their GP but only 83.8% did so during the period from October to December.
This was a slight increase on the 83.5% seen during the previous three months, but means that the target has been missed during the last four quarters.
Figures released by NHS England revealed improvements in other areas, including the number of people seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer (94.7%), compared with 93.6% the previous quarter.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the failure to meet the two-month target for the fourth quarter in a row was a “scandal”.
“David Cameron cut the cancer budget by £800 million in real terms and, despite all the warnings, he persisted with an NHS reorganisation that disrupted cancer services,” he said.
“The deterioration in cancer care is a direct consequence of Government policies and the clearest proof the Tories can’t be trusted with the NHS.
“When it comes to cancer, speed is everything. Labour is committed to cancer tests and results within one week to help end this scandal.”
Sean Duffy, NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer, said that despite the missed target, the number of patients seeing a specialist within two weeks of visiting their GP had gone up by 44,000 compared with the same quarter a year earlier.
“But it’s crucial we focus on maintaining waiting time standards for treatment as demand increases so we are closely scrutinising these figures to pinpoint any issues on the ground,” he added.
“We have also created an independent task force to develop a plan to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment over the next five years, with the aim of saving thousands more lives.”
Those suffering from skin cancer had an increase in waiting times, with 97.2% of patients beginning first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis between October and December, compared with 97.7% from July to September.
And 94.6% of people treated for skin cancers received their first definitive treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred by their GP, down from 95.8% the previous quarter.
Meanwhile 99% of people treated for breast cancer began their first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis, up from 98.8% during the three months before, while the number of patients urgently referred for breast symptoms (where cancer was not initially suspected) seen within two weeks of referral went up to 94.9% from 93.5%
The amount of all cancer patients beginning their first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis rose minimally to 97.8% from 97.7%
Dr Fran Woodard, director of policy and research at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is deeply concerning that the cancer waiting time targets, which outline the time it should take for people with cancer to begin treatment following an urgent GP referral, have been breached once again in England.
“This marks a year of this target being consistently missed, a year in which we’ve barely seen any improvements to waiting times being made. This shows a fundamental failure within the NHS.
“Latest figures show that 68 trusts in England have failed to meet the target, leaving more than 5,000 people waiting more than 62 days to start urgent treatment - this is simply deplorable.
“Ahead of the upcoming general election we need to see a firm commitment by all political parties in their manifestos to tackle poor cancer survival rates and outcomes as a matter of urgency.”