Nearly one in five of all cancer patients in Preston, Chorley and South Ribble did not receive cancer treatment within target times last year, according to latest NHS statistics.
In 2014 Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals, failed to start treatment on 237 patients within the recommended 62 days, an increase of 21 per cent on the number missed in 2013.
We are absolutely committed to achieving the 62-day cancer standard.Karen Partington - Chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Using this figure, the Trust ranks as second worst in the North West, behind The Christie NHS Foundation Trust which had 257 patients missing the goal.
The 62-day wait target was introduced in September 2000 as part of the NHS Cancer Plan. Its aim was to leave less time for the cancer to progress, and treatments given earlier are more likely to be effective.
Emlyn Samuel, senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s disappointing to see that the ‘62-day target’ for cancer treatment in the North West of England has not started to improve along with national statistics.
“These targets exist to ensure swift diagnosis of cancer and access to treatment, which is vital if we’re serious about having the best cancer survival in the world. Patients need the confidence that cancer is being taken seriously and prioritised, which is why urgent action must be taken to support the NHS.”
But hospital bosses say that as one of the region’s specialist cancer centres, the Trust takes in the second highest number of cancer patients in the region.
They also point out the increase of 21 per cent on last year is joint ninth worst in the North West out of 26, and that patients can be past the 62-day recommendation by the time they are referred from other Trusts as well as some choosing to delay their own treatment at certain times, such as over Christmas.
Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are absolutely committed to achieving the 62-day cancer standard.
“More people are surviving cancer, due to earlier and better screening and diagnosis, advances in treatment, and an overall reduction in smoking, which is fantastic.
“However, cancer is increasingly common, especially as people are now living for longer; in the past three years the number of cancer patients we are treating has risen by 40 per cent.
“Also as we are a tertiary specialist cancer centre, we treat more complex cancer cases, which is often a longer process.
“The increase in the number of patients, along with capacity pressures within our hospitals, the provision of more and better tests and treatment options (which can take more time) and some delays in local hospitals referring patients to our specialist cancer centre, together make it challenging for specialist cancer centres across the country to achieve this standard.
“We have been working closely with specialist commissioners and local hospitals to improve the onward referral process, which will enable specialist cancer centres to achieve what is currently an extremely challenging standard, but more importantly make sure cancer patients don’t experience delays in treatment.
“We have also introduced robust timed pathways for every cancer so that we can make sure every test, consultation and procedure takes place on time for every cancer patient, and any delays are eliminated.
“Over the past three years we have invested an additional £3.6m in expanding our cancer centre.
“This includes the installation of two additional new leading edge linear accelerators which provide radiotherapy treatment, a new facility that provides 3D virtual learning, and the introduction of new treatment including stereotactic radiotherapy which uses specialist equipment to deliver high dose x-rays at small tumours.”
Halima Master, from Preston, said speed of treatment by doctors was key to saving the life of her 11-month-old daughter Safaa, who was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma tumour near her spine.
She said: “Neuroblastoma can develop very quickly, so you need to act quickly before it’s too late.
“Our doctors didn’t hang around - Safaa got her results back within a week and they surgery was within weeks.
“We were really relieved that everything happened so swiftly after we noticed symptoms. The earlier things can be done, the better.”
Safaa is now nearly six years old and is completely cancer-free.
Graham Vickers, 57, of Avenham, was given the all-clear from throat cancer in February, having being diagnosed and starting treatment at the end of 2013.
He said: “I went to see the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at the Royal Preston on the Tuesday, and I was having surgery the following Monday.
“My diagnosis and treatment was 100mph and I know for a fact that if it hadn’t have been that quick, it would have been a different story.
“I got it early, but the tumour had already taken three quarters of my voicebox. If it had been left much longer, it would have been inoperable.”
Dad-of-two Ric Clark from Penwortham, was successfully treated for stomach cancer at the Royal Preston Hospital and Preston’s Rosemere Centre.
He said the efficiency of the service exceeded his expectations and helped reduce his and his family’s anxieties.
Mr Clark, a human resources team leader for BAE Systems ,said: “I was diagnosed on the January 31, 2014, and had initial investigatory surgery on February 5, 2014. to stage the cancer. On February 28 I had started chemotherapy treatment following on from the surgery findings.
“From being diagnosed to starting treatment, the process took less than a month, which included pre-op assessments, surgery and further tests to ensure the chemotherapy treatment was suitable.
“I remember my surgeon saying during the diagnosis that I would receive “the gold standard” of treatment, and I would say that the service I received was of a gold standard.
“In my case, they showed speed, delivered on their promises and excelled in their treatment.”
Patients have a right to receive their first treatment within 62 days of receiving an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer, according to the NHS Constitution.
Latest figures show over 20,000 patients are waiting too long for treatment across England in 2014, of which over 2,500 were in the Northwest region.
Veronica Bennett, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for South Ribble, said: “When it comes to cancer, speed is everything. Labour is committed to cancer tests and results within one week to help end this scandal. It is not acceptable for any patient to wait over 62 days g.”
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Sue McGuire said: “I lost my brother to cancer in 2009 so I have personal experience of the devastating impacts this disease has. Early diagnosis with a clear treatment plan is vital.The Liberal Democrats have committed to invest £8million in our NHS.”
Seema Kennedy, the Conservative Candidate for South Ribble, said: “Every day that someone has to wait to start treatment is a day of anxiety and stress. That is why the Conservatives set up and is investing £340m per year into the Cancer Drug Fund, in order to pay for the drugs not routinely available on the NHS that cancer patients need.