NHS brings down longest waits for cancer care alongside faster ambulance responses - The Malvern Observer

NHS brings down longest waits for cancer care alongside faster ambulance responses

Malvern Editorial 23rd May, 2024   0

The NHS has met the 28 day faster diagnosis target for cancer for the second month in a row, new figures show, with ambulances responding to callouts faster than the month before.

Almost 200,000 (77%) people referred or screened received a definitive diagnosis or the all clear within four weeks, exceeding the national ambition of 75%.

Meeting the ambition for two consecutive months follows targeted national support for NHS trusts to reduce variation across the country, and initiatives like FIT tests to speed up diagnosis for patients with bowel cancer.

Alongside ensuring patients get a timely diagnosis, the NHS has been focused on bringing down the covid backlog of patients waiting for diagnosis or treatment that inevitably built up over the pandemic.

New data shows that the number of patients waiting longer than 62 days is now the lowest it has been since the end of April 2020, reducing by almost 20,000 patients since the post-pandemic peak.

Thanks to the efforts of staff, over the last year (April 2023 to March 2024), more than 2.2 million people have received a cancer diagnosis or the all clear from the NHS within one month.

March saw the NHS deliver the highest number of urgent cancer appointments on record with more than 12,500 patients seen every day – more than a quarter of a million over the month (254,594). This is a third (33%) more referrals than the NHS was seeing before the pandemic – the equivalent of 3,000 more patients per day.

Cancer treatment activity was also at its highest ever level with over 1,400 patients starting cancer treatment every day.

Significant progress on cancer waits comes alongside ongoing significant demand for urgent and emergency care, with today’s data showing the busiest ever April for both A&E attendances (2,230,414) and admissions (544,113).

Despite this record demand for April, the new data shows the impact of the initiatives rolled out as part of the Urgent and emergency care recovery plan, with almost three-quarters (74.4%) of people discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours last month – the highest proportion since April last year (74.6%).

Ambulance response times were faster in every category last month, with the most urgent cases (category 1) 10 seconds faster than the month before (8:10 down from 8:20 in March), and the fastest since April last year (8:07).

Category 2 calls were responded to almost three and a half minutes faster in April (30:22) than March (33:50), and were faster than each of the ten months before that.

Extensive winter planning and urgent and emergency care recovery measures have seen more call handlers joining the NHS, and data shows more than 730,000 calls were answered by 999 in April, with an average answer time of three seconds – the fastest since April 2021, and 25 seconds faster than April 2022 (28 seconds).

Monthly performance updates also show continued efforts to treat those waiting the longest for routine treatment, despite significant demand for services across the NHS, and the ongoing work to catch up with appointments postponed during the record periods of industrial action.

The overall list remained stable in March at 7.54 million, made up of a total of 6.29 million patients because some are waiting for more than one treatment.

Waits of more than 65 weeks are down to 48,968 – since April 2023 more than 3.7 million people who would otherwise have been waiting 65 weeks have been treated to get to this point.

In March, the NHS delivered 1.43 million treatments. Over the past year (April 2023 to March 2024), almost 17.5 million appointments and procedures (17,410,542) were delivered – up by almost a quarter of a million on the 12 months pre-pandemic (17,162,931, March 2019 to February 2020).

NHS National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said:

“Today’s figures show just how hard NHS staff are working to deliver the best possible care for patients, despite ongoing significant demand and a difficult recovery journey – it is particularly encouraging to see we have met the 28 day faster diagnosis target for cancer for the second month in a row, making sure people receive a definitive diagnosis or the all clear within four weeks, which we know is really important for patients.

“Improvements in urgent and emergency care continue, with ambulances responding to emergency calls faster, and more people being seen within four hours in A&Es despite a record April for attendances and admissions.

“The data also shows the huge efforts as part of the NHS elective recovery plan to treat those who have been waiting the longest for routine treatment are paying off, and while we know that there is further to go, we will continue to work to build on the improvements made so far throughout this year”.

Dame Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for NHS England, said:

“These figures show the NHS has made significant progress tackling the longest waits for patients with cancer, which has been achieved against a backdrop of record referrals for suspected cancer.

“It also shows our progress is sustainable, as we exceeded our ambitions for the number of people diagnosed or given the all-clear within 28 days for the second month in a row.

“We will continue to focus on our vital screening programmes and targeted checks to catch cancers earlier, and ensure people get access to the specialist services and treatment they need quickly”.

Sources: NHS / Public Health England


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