Cancer waiting time performance rates drop to lowest ever, analysis shows

Targets were missed a total of 168,390 times between April and September this year.

An NHS sign
An NHS sign

The NHS’s cancer waiting time performance across all the national targets has dropped to its lowest rate since records began, according to an analysis of publicly available data.

An analysis published in the Sunday Times found that between April and September this year each of the nine NHS cancer targets reported the lowest proportion of patients being treated in time since the standards were first introduced a decade ago.

In total across the different standards the targets were missed a total of 168,390 times between April and September this year, it added.

The analysis was carried out by the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation and provided to the newspaper.

Catherine Turton, senior analyst at the Health Foundation, said: “After a decade of austerity in health funding and chronic workforce shortages, we are seeing essential parts of the NHS experiencing their worst performance on record.

“Over the last six months, overall performance on the key NHS cancer targets has been worse than the same period in previous years and is set be the worst year on record.

“Patients are having to face longer waits for hospital treatment, which reflects how large the gap has grown between the demand for NHS care and the funding available for NHS services over the past five years.

“Sustained investment in the NHS and social care and a coherent workforce plan are needed to help address these pressures – but getting the system back on track will be neither quick nor easy.”

But the NHS said that the number of people referred has increased by 11.7% – 253,450 more people – over the last 12 months compared to the same period the previous year.

A spokeswoman for the health service said that the number of people treated for cancer within 62 days in 2018-19 was 31% higher than in 2011-12.

She added: “Actually far more people are getting a fast check-up than ever before – with a record 2.2 million checks carried out last year.

“So your chance of getting a quick diagnosis and treatment is amongst the highest it has ever been which is one reason why cancer survival in England is at an all-time high.”

The biggest drop in performance came in the two week GP referral for breast cancer which fell from 97.5% in 2011-12 to 81.1% in the first half of 2019-20 – a fall of 14.6 percentage points.

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