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Some trusts missing breast cancer treatment waiting time target

Published 13/08/2015

The target time for treating breast cancer patients was not met, NHS England said
The target time for treating breast cancer patients was not met, NHS England said

Some breast cancer patients are having to wait longer than they should to be referred to a consultant, according to figures from NHS England which show several missed targets.

The waiting times for patients with breast symptoms - where cancer was not initially suspected - were below the standard, as 92.9% of patients were seen by a consultant within 14 days from an urgent GP referral.

Charity Breast Cancer Care said the missed targets were "concerning".

Danni Manzi, head of policy and campaigns at the charity, said: "Waiting to find out if you have breast cancer can cause severe anxiety and distress, so it is very concerning that NHS waiting time targets have not been met.

"Although reassuring that the overall figure was just below the 93% target, this is down from 94.5% in May. Some 44 trusts missed the target, with the lowest performance at only 50%."

She added: "A delay in diagnosing breast cancer can adversely affect how successful treatment is, so we must address these inconsistencies in how quickly patients are seen across the country and ensure standards do not slip."

Data released by NHS England also showed that the target for beginning treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral for cancer was missed.

In 2010/11, 87% of patients were treated within 62 days, above the 85% target. But so far this year, the figure has fallen to 81.9%.

Dr Fran Woodard, Director of Policy and Research at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Today's figures reveal that waiting time targets for the 62 day wait to begin treatment for cancer have been breached yet again. This is now the worst result in a single quarter for six years; there are more than 6,000 people waiting over 62 days after an urgent GP referral to first treatment, up from 5,704 in the last quarter.

"Delays in accessing treatment can often leave people feeling upset, anxious or distressed. We have a duty to give these people timely access to treatment at what can be an incredibly difficult and isolating time in their lives.

"Once again we see the NHS is under pressure and there is an urgent need for a coordinated effort across the system to address these delays.

"There are two million people living with cancer in England and many of them are currently struggling with the devastating and often long-term impact of cancer. This is yet more evidence that too many of these people are unable to access the type and quality of services they need.

"In order to address these problems and ensure everyone with cancer gets the best possible care and support throughout their treatment and beyond, Macmillan is urging the Government and the NHS to fully fund and implement the recommendations in the recent Cancer Strategy for England."

Dr Barbara Hakin, National Director of Commissioning Operations for NHS England, said: "Having recently published the report of the independent cancer taskforce, we plan to take comprehensive action on cancer care, improving survival rates and saving thousands more lives.

"In the last five years the number of cancer referrals has leapt by 645,000 or 71%, meaning GPs are increasingly spotting the warning signs early and referring people for tests. We are diagnosing and treating more people than ever before and, as a result, more people than ever are surviving cancer. We continue to treat the vast majority of patients within a month, whether that's surgery, radiotherapy or drugs.

"As these statistics and new performance standards demonstrate, throughout the NHS patients are getting better care than ever before, and they are getting it when they need it and where they need it."

There was also an increase in delayed transfers of care over the past 12 months.

During June 2015, there were 139,577 delays - up by 12.5% on June 2014.

Commenting on the figures, Anna Bradley, chair of Healthwatch England, said: "The figures from NHS England show that, yet again, the number of people being kept in hospital when deemed fit to leave has increased - with the number of people experiencing a delayed discharge significantly higher than this time a year ago and a staggering total of 70,000 people kept in hospital too long since April last year.

"This is entirely consistent with the findings of Safely Home: What Happens When People Leave Hospitals And Care Settings?, our report on unsafe discharge, which was published last month.

"During our inquiry we heard over 3,000 shocking stories and gathered evidence from over 101 local Healthwatch (groups), finding that poor co-ordination of health and social care services and a failure to put patients at the heart of discharge planning is consistently resulting in far too many people being kept in hospital longer than necessary, as well as many being discharged too early.

"What is frustrating is that we know that in some places services work really well across boundaries and patients are discharged safely with the care and support they need. With a few basic changes to discharge planning, this good practice could be replicated across all services.

"To change people's experiences, we need everyone across health and social care to commit to involving patients and their loved ones in planning how and when they are going to leave hospital from the very first moment they are admitted. This approach will ensure people get home from hospital sooner and safer, as well as freeing up thousands of beds and saving money."

The figures also showed that ambulance responses were below the target for the fourth month this year, with 74.8% of the most critical calls - known as Red 1 - being responded to within eight minutes.

The target for responding to Red 2 calls (immediately life threatening) has also been missed again, with 71.4% of cases being responded to within eight minutes. The standard has not been met since January 2014.

Immediately life threatening calls, classified as Category A, increased by seven per cent on the previous 12 month period. Over 255,000 calls which triggered an ambulance response were received by the service in June 2015.

NHS England published all the data today after the national medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, suggested it was released on the same day rather than in separate weekly, monthly or quarterly releases as had been the case.

Dr Hakin said: "This information gives us a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the current operational performance of the NHS than has ever been presented before.

"It shows high performance levels across the country, in the face of growing demand for care treatments as a result of our growing and ageing population. And with the NHS providing new and innovative treatment, more people are living longer than ever before with complex conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.

"Across the board the data shows increased pressures: ambulance journeys up 7.9% year-on-year, emergency admissions up 2.7%, and diagnostic tests up 5.9%, all supported by a resilient NHS with remarkable frontline staff.

"It also underlines the need for redesigned services as set out in the NHS' Five Year Forward View."

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