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NHS 'heading in wrong direction'

Nearly 19,000 patients faced delays of more than six weeks for key tests in January, exceeding the maximum target, according to newly released figures.

NHS England said the total number of patients waiting six weeks or longer from referral for one of the 15 key diagnostic tests was 18,740, representing 2.4% of the total number of patients waiting. The operational standard is 1%.

Labour said the record high amounted to a five-fold increase since the last election.

The data measures the waiting times of patients still waiting for any of 15 key diagnostic tests or procedures at the month's end after they have been referred and one of the main measurements is the number and proportion of patients waiting six weeks or longer from time of referral.

The tests include seven that detect cancers while others check for heart disease.

The total figure of people waiting six weeks or longer increased by 5,600 from the end of January last year, NHS England said.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said a Labour government will guarantee that NHS patients in England would have to wait no longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020.

He said: "David Cameron promised to improve cancer care but this is damning evidence of his failure. He has presided over a major cut in the cancer budget in this parliament and this has damaged the care that cancer patients are receiving.

"All the gains that Labour made have been lost and the NHS is heading in the wrong direction. Thousands of families are waiting too long for tests, facing all the anxiety that means, and cancer is being diagnosed at a later stage where treatment is less likely to be successful. That's why Labour will guarantee a maximum one-week wait for cancer tests.

"The NHS as we know it can't survive five more years of the Tories. Families struggling with cancer can't take the risk. and, despite all the warnings, persisted with an NHS reorganisation that disrupted cancer services."

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