East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust in bottom 10 for cancer wait times
PUBLISHED: 13:53 14 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:53 14 June 2019
East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust is in the bottom 10 in the UK for cancer treatment wait times, according to BBC figures released yesterday.
Cancer patients - at the NHS Trust's hospitals in Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage, Hertford and Northwood - in most cases start treatment within the 62 days recommended after GP referral.
But the BBC report revealed 30.8 per cent of cancer patients, during 2018-19, did not start treatment until after the 62 days.
NHS Hospitals have a target to refer 85 per cent of cancer cases within the 62 days.
A spokesperson for East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust maintains wait times are improving with 82.3 per cent - just under the recommended figure - of cancer patients on the 62-day pathway being treated on time last month.
"Over the past year we have seen significant improvements with our performance, particularly in relation to specialist tertiary treatments.
"Analysis shows that our waiting lists have improved, so has our two-week-wait performance and we have been consistently compliant on the 31-day subsequent treatment programme for chemotherapy and radiotherapy."
The 31-day mark refers to an NHS mini-target, which is a patient's wait from the hospital deciding to treat to cancer treatment being performed.
Cancer charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support, blame the "chronic underinvestment in the NHS" for the long wait times.
Dr Moira Fraser-Pearce, director of policy and campaigns at Macmillan, said, "These consistently missed targets for cancer waiting times are indicative of the overstretched NHS workforce, which is struggling to cope faced with increasing patient need and unreasonable workloads."
Added to the under funding, Macmillan also says the number of patients referred for suspected cancer has doubled since 2010-11.
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"The Government must act urgently, and prioritise a plan to ensure that the NHS has the money and resource to tackle the workforce crisis," Dr Fraser-Pearce said.
The parliamentary Public Accounts committee recommended, on Wednesday, that NHS England put a plan in place by the end of the year on 'how, and by when' it will start delivering on cancer wait time targets.
"The NHS has not met the 62-day standard from urgent referral for suspected cancer to treatment since 2013, and in November 2018 only three per cent of trusts met this standard," the committee maintains.
"In 2015, NHS England committed to us that it would improve performance against the 62-day cancer standard, but performance has further declined since."
The East and North Herts NHS spokesperson said the trust knows more work needs to be done, "with the many trusts that refer patients to us, to improve the coordination of those referrals and how we deal with them".
It also says: "The Trust has a specialist cancer tertiary treatment centre - the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood - that treats patients at the end of their pathway that has been commenced in other hospitals and late referrals can affect our performance figures."
NHS Improvement - the health service regulator - will also be running a £1.6 million joint development programme with the local trust.
The programme will tackle four clinical areas - lung, colorectal, urology and gynaecology - which the Herts Trust hopes will allow them to be compliant by the end of 2019.
The parliamentary report also pointed out that the NHS has not met elective care waiting times, an 18-week period, since February 2016.
Written evidence was submitted to the parliament committee by Versus Arthritis charity, who said "patient outcomes from joint replacement surgery are worse for those who wait for more than six months for treatment."
"Delaying access to joint replacement surgery can lead to deterioration in an individual's medical condition and 'worse overall outcomes, ultimately costing the health and care system more'."
East and North Herts NHS Trust has not reached the elective wait time since April 2017 but is only marginally within the target.