Nearly three in 10 Bedford Hospital cancer patients wait longer than two months for treatment

Macmillan Cancer Support says patients must 'not be left behind and forgotten'

Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 2:28 pm

Nearly three in 10 cancer patients at Bedford Hospital are waiting longer than two months for treatment, new figures show.

Charities fear there will a further backlog of cases nationally as a result of service disruption amid the coronavirus pandemic, while fewer people put off seeking help from their GP.

Macmillan Cancer Support says patients must "not be left behind and forgotten" in the Government's plans for easing lockdown measures.

Macmillan Cancer Support says patients must 'not be left behind and forgotten'

NHS data shows that in Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, just 71 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in 2019-20.

That was down from 77 per cent in 2018-19.

It means 233 patients waited longer than two months, and the trust fell far below the 85 per cent target introduced a decade ago.

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at charity Cancer Research UK, said the figures indicate the start of the impact of the virus on cancer waiting times, but "don’t provide the whole picture".

She added that the fall in urgent referrals, which worsened into April, is "very concerning" and means thousands of patients who need vital cancer care are in a backlog.

“The NHS is working hard to create ‘Covid-free’ sites for cancer care. An essential part of this is frequent testing of NHS staff and patients, including those without symptoms. But it’s clear this is not happening quickly enough," she said.

"Patients need to know that cancer hospitals are a safe place to go. Lives are in jeopardy.”

The number of people across England who had their first hospital consultation following an urgent GP referral – known as a "two-week wait" referral – fell to 181,873 in March, down from 188,740 in the previous month.

Macmillan’s head of policy and influence, Sara Bainbridge, said this indicated fewer people were seeking help from their GP due to fears about catching Covid-19.

“We are concerned that disrupted services mean fewer people will be embarking on treatment at this time for a variety of reasons,” she added.

“People will be waiting longer for treatment in the future. There are likely to be issues around meeting the 85% standard time.”

An NHS spokeswoman said almost 30,000 people with cancer had their first treatment in March.

“The vast majority were treated within one month of the decision to treat," she said.

“NHS staff have made huge efforts to ensure that patients can continue to have cancer surgery throughout the pandemic and people must continue to come forward for checks if they have a worrying symptom.”