The Royal College of Nursing has condemned new figures showing that more cancer patients are missing a key government target than at any time since records began.
July saw the lowest ever proportion of cancer patients being seen by a doctor within the government target of 62 days, according to data released by NHS England.
“This bald statistic represents untold stress and misery for thousands of patients”
The figures show that 78% of people received a first definitive treatment for cancer within 62 days after an urgent GP referral. This is the lowest proportion since records began in October 2009. The target for the NHS is 85%, which was last hit in December 2015.
There was also bad news on accident and emergency waits during August. Admissions rose by 70,000 on the same month last year to 1.99 million.
Only 89.7% of people attending A&E were seen within four hours against an NHS target of 95%. This has not been achieved since July 2015. Waiting lists for planned operations are also at their highest in over a decade.
Tom Sandford, director of the RCN for England said the cancer figures were of greatest concern. “This bald statistic represents untold stress and misery for thousands of patients and their families,” said Mr Sandford.
“The 62 day limit isn’t an arbitary figure but was recommended by clinicians as the best way to try to halt progression of the disease – cancer nurses see at first hand the distress breaching the target causes patients,” he said.
“This is not the position that trusts want to be in as we turn our attention to an inevitably difficult winter ahead”
He highlighted that the A&E figures showed how badly the NHS had coped with the hot summer. “With winter just weeks away, these figures paint an alarming picture of an NHS still reeling from a heatwave summer our healthcare system could barely cope with,” he said.
He added: “Admissions are up on last year, the four hour target has not been met since July 2015, and the system has still not caught up with the backlog of operations cancelled last winter.”
Mr Sandford warned that hotter summers might have to be factored in to future plans for the NHS.
“If heatwave summers are to become the new normal, it is clear the prime minister’s promised £20bn for the NHS cannot come soon enough,” he said. “The government must draw up and fund a comprehensive workforce plan that responds to a growing and ageing population.”
Miriam Deakin, deputy director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, noted that there had been “no respite” for NHS staff this summer due to unprecedented demand.
“Although the position has slightly improved in August, trusts are admitting many more people into accident and emergency departments than this time last year,” she said.
“At the same time, the waiting list for routine operations continues to grow,” she said. “This is not the position that trusts want to be in as we turn our attention to an inevitably difficult winter ahead.”
More patients were being treated within the four-hour target but not enough to keep up with the target, admitted Ms Deakin.
She added: “Against the triple challenge of rapidly increasing demand, growing workforce shortages and continuing pressure on NHS finances, performance is below the level patients should expect.”
She echoed the RCN’s fears over cancer treatment, saying: “It is very worrying that performance against key cancer targets is deteriorating.
“Yet again this month, key national cancer standards have been missed and the percentage of patients treated within two months of an urgent GP referral reached a record low,” she said.
Patients would continue to suffer unless a proper long term plan for both health and social care was implemented, she said.
She added: “The 10-year plan is an opportunity to address how we meet extraordinary levels of demand throughout the year and across ambulance, hospital, community and mental health services.
“This must be accompanied by additional funding for a social care which would make a real difference for the NHS this winter,” noted Ms Deakin.
Separately, NHS Digital has released annual data showing that A&E admissions in England increased 22% in the past decade.
The statistics showed that A&E admissions had increased by an average of 2% per year over the period since 2008-09 compared with population growth of 1% a year.
The data release also showed that for hospitals:
- Monday was the busiest day of the week and the most popular time of arrival is between 10am and midday
- 8.6% of A&E patients were re-attending within seven days of first attending A&E
- Patients arriving between 8am and 10am spent the shortest time in A&E with 17% arriving between 8am and 8:59am spending one hour or less