NHS misses cancer referral targets again

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THE target time period for those referred for urgent treatment after being diagnosed with suspected cancer in England has been missed during every quarter of the last year, figures show.

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.

Gill Barker

From reaching the summit of Mount Everest to cycling thousands of miles across America, there’s no end to the lengths people will go to for a cause close to their heart. Breaking boundaries and taking on gruelling endeavours can mean the person taking part enjoys the experience of a lifetime while the charity benefits from generous sponsorship. But taking time off work and organising an extreme, and often costly, adventure just isn’t possible for everyone. That’s why Gill Barker, from Wakefield, has created her own twist on the trend to find the toughest, most epic charity challenge. Gill is set to turn 35 in 2020 – and reaching this milestone has inspired her to have a good think about what she’d like to achieve, both physically and mentally, and write a bucket list to help reach those goals. Gill will complete 35 challenges before her 35th birthday on Saturday March 14. Some are small, some are huge, but all of them will push her beyond her comfort zone. “Turning 33 felt like a big thing for me,” explains Gill, who works in marketing at Leeds Trinity University. “I started to think about the life decisions I’d made. I looked back and while I’d had fun, I regretted all those weekends where I could have been having more fulfilling experiences and creating memories. “I have a full-time job so I couldn’t do a massive overseas challenge, but I realised I could break it down into little bits and still raise as much money as possible for charity.” Gill has already ticked 11 challenges off her list. She’s faced her fear of heights at the outdoor adventure centre Go Ape, trained with the Leeds Rhinos, cycled 128 miles from coast to coast and climbed Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. Other challenges have involved changing her diet to ensure she’s getting all the nutrients she needs, and going to the gym more regularly on her own – something that would previously have caused Gill a considerable amount of anxiety. During the festive season, Gill kept active by completing a ‘12 days of Christmas’ workout challenge. Gill is now taking part in RED January, a campaign run in partnership with Mind that encourages participants to beat the winter blues by being active every day throughout the month. Then, later this month she’ll be taking to the slopes at Xscape Yorkshire to try her hand at skiing for the first time. Gill’s biggest test of her ‘35 before 35’ mission so far will be taking part in a 24-hour run in March. The run will be completed on a 3.71-mile loop so not only will it be physically demanding, it will also play on her mental toughness. She will also be finishing the year in style by taking part in the Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii in December. There are three conditions that all of Gill’s challenges must meet – they must be physical or stretch her mentally, they all need to be self-funded and they can’t affect her job. Driving Gill’s ambition is a passion to help two local charities that have personal meaning to her – Yorkshire Cancer Research and Leeds Mind. She’s already raised more than £500 for the two causes. “Like many families across the UK, my own family has a history of cancer,” explains Gill. “But people close to me have recently been affected by cancer, too. They’ve all been so strong and inspirational. I wanted to do something that would support them. “I chose to raise money for Yorkshire Cancer Research after reading that people living here are more likely to get cancer, and more likely to die from it, than people living in other areas of the country. The statistics really shocked me.” Gill chose Leeds Mind following her own struggles with mental health. Her ‘35 before 35’ challenge has helped her overcome a period of depression. “It’s given me something to focus on,” Gill says. “Many people are affected by depression, even those who continue to work and function in everyday life. It’s very easy to fall into that slump and stop doing the things you used to enjoy. “I’m feeling much fitter and healthier, but I’m also happier and more confident now that I have a new focus. “If I can encourage one person who may be going through a difficult period to be brave and do something they’ve never done before, face a fear or take on a new challenge in order to gain a new focus, then that would be brilliant. If I can do it, anyone can.” You can find out more about Gill Barker’s challenges and sponsor her by visiting www.35before35.co.uk. You can also follow her progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She is also looking for suggestions for challenges to complete the 35 as she is still a few short on her list. For further information on Yorkshire Cancer Research, visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.u

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.”