Old people with docNew figures released this week show that the 62-day-wait target for cancer treatment has failed to be met for the seventh consecutive quarter in England.

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, said: “These latest figures reveal a deeply worrying picture. It has now been nearly two years since the target of 85 per cent of cancer patients being treated within two months of a referral for cancer has been met. This means over 21,000 patients have faced unacceptable delays to their diagnosis and treatment. Those reliant on the health service to look after them are bearing the brunt of this repeated failure. The 85 per cent target is there to ensure cancer is quickly diagnosed and patients begin treatment soon after, so failing to meet this yet again is not good enough. Investigating suspected cancer can be an extremely difficult time for patients and their families and they need to have confidence that their health is being taken seriously and is a priority for the NHS.

“This cannot continue. Urgent action must be taken to deliver the recommendations in the new Cancer Strategy – including investment in diagnostics – to support the NHS and ensure it has the resources it needs to meet this challenge.”

New figures show that between June and September 2015, 82.1% of patients were treated within the target waiting time. And nearly half of all NHS trusts failed to meet the target. All across England, thousands of patients are being failed.

Cancer Research UK said in its science blog that using NHS data they’ve calculated the growing demand for treatment: Since data were first recorded in 2009, in England around 1,600 more cancer patients every year have needed treatment after being referred by their GP for urgent investigation of suspected cancer. But the numbers of people who are treated within 62 days has only increased by around 1,200 extra per year – a shortfall of around 400 patients a year.

NHS England publishes data on how many patients are waiting up to, and over, 62 days in time brackets. They analysed how long people are waiting from referral to treatment, and how long patients wait once they miss the 62 day target. Using the data for financial year 2014-15 – a full year where the NHS failed to meet the 62-day wait target – they combined the figures into the following categories:

  • comfortably met target (0 to 48 days)
  • met target (49 to 62 days)
  • up to two weeks over target (63 to 76 days)
  • up to one month over target (77 to 104 days)
  • more than one month over target (104+ days)
They added: "We can look at this a different way. Of the 21,629 patients who waited more than 62 days in 2014-15, more than four in 10 (42.3 per cent) were waiting between two weeks and one month after the target, and around a quarter were waiting more than a month more than the target waiting time. This means only a third of patients who wait longer than 62 days are treated just after the target. Most  (67.8 per cent) patients waited anywhere from two weeks to more than a month longer. This shows patients who are failed are more likely to be waiting a lot longer than they should be, rather than ‘just missing’ the target as you might suppose."