NHS cancer waiting times show improvement

Statistics published this month show that cancer waiting times have improved over the past year, despite a general growing pressure on waiting times in the health service and an increase of over 100,000 more people in England being seen by a cancer specialist.

Official statistics from the Department of Health published in September 2011 show a steady improvement in waiting times for cancer patient referrals and treatment.

The report, called Waiting Times for Suspected and Diagnosed Cancer Patients in England 2010-2011, also show the NHS hit targets for cancer referrals seen at two weeks, and treatment targets at 31 days and 62 days.

Between April 2010 and March 2011 over one million patients were seen by cancer specialists following an urgent referral by a GP – an increase of over 100,000.

A total of 95.5% were seen within 14 days of referral, compared to 94.9% in the previous year.

Around 45,000 patients were not seen within 14 days of referral.

The performance is encouraging news for mouth cancer patients where early diagnosis and treatment improve survival rates from 50% to 90%.

Referrals within 14 days for suspected head and neck cancers improved to 96.3% in 2010-2011, from 95.7% in the previous year.

The good performance for cancer referral and treatment is in contrast to other parts of the NHS. The number of hospital patients in England waiting over the 18-week guarantee has jumped by a third in the past year.

Of the 300,000 people seen in July 2011, over 28,000 had waited beyond the target – a 34% rise from the same month last year. Those who waited over six months rose by 55% to more than 9,000. Overall the NHS in England is continuing to hit its targets of seeing 90% of patients in 18 weeks.

Cancer waiting times are monitored carefully by the British Dental Health Foundation, which organises the Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign, with support from Denplan, in November each year to help raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms.

Drinking alcohol to excess, smoking, poor diet and some sexually transmitted infections (Human Papilloma Virus or HPV) are all known risk factors for mouth cancer, which is likely to affect 60,000 people in the UK over the next decade.

Chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: ‘The NHS is doing a very good job once cancer patients are in the system.

‘The challenge in relation to mouth cancer is to ensure that everyone recognises the warning signs before it is too late. They include ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth.’

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