Pledge to cut waiting times for cancer referral and diagnosis

A meeting will be held to look at the impact of coronavirus on cancer services. Picture: Getty Image

A meeting will be held to look at the impact of coronavirus on cancer services. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hospitals aim to end the 104 day wait for treatment for cancer patients by the end of the year as part of measures looking at the impact on services due to the pandemic.

Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee members questioned health officials on the immediate and long term impact on referrals, diagnosis and waiting times for treatment.

In a report Dr Mark Lim, associated director of planned care and cancer, for the Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group said all hospital trusts aim to have no patients waiting more than 104 days by December 2020.

More: ‘I live for every day’ - what is it like to be diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic?Councillor Keith Robinson said his sister’s experience was an “illustration of the problem occurring”.

Mr Robinson said his sister, who had been in remission for non-Hodgkin’s was due a six month check-up in June that was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Since April she has had a severe skin irritation which when seen by a dermatologist was diagnosed as advance lymphatic rash and needed to be seen for a biopsy “within a week” - no appointment has been arranged.

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He told the meeting on Thursday: “This was a fortnight ago, yesterday [Wednesday] she rang up the hospital and said what has happened to my appointment I was supposed to be seen within a fortnight. They knew nothing about that. This is beginning to get quite worrying and if she had that appointment in June they would have picked this up. So possibly that has affected her outcome.”

Penny Carpenter, chairman of the committee, said “There is somebody at the bottom of the chain who has the cancer diagnosis or any other life threatening diagnosis and they need to be seen extremely quickly for everybody sake. Their life expectancy depends on how quickly you can get them seen.”

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Since July the CCG aims to increase the number of referrals with suspected cancer, endoscopy capacity, surgical hubs to pre-pandemic levels. It is also challenged to manage the growth in the number of people requiring cancer diagnosis or treatment.

The pandemic “significantly” hit cervical, breast and bowel cancer nationally with a backlog of patients to be invited and diagnostic tests not taking place due to restrictions.

Councillor Chris Jones question the “unrealistic” national targets to get elective surgeries up to 90pc by November with the threat of a second wave.

Dr Lim said: “The 90pc is a challenging target and we won’t pretend that it is otherwise.

“We have not been asked to revise our assumption just yet in relation to that 90pc target in light of that.”

Endoscopy services are up to 75pc of pre-pandemic level at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital with priority for patients with suspected cancer.

The NHS has a target that 85pc of patients start a first treatment for cancer within two months of an urgent GP referral.

In Norfolk the figure was around 70pc in July, the month which the most recent figures are available for.

In a report to the board Dr Lim wrote: “We have significantly reduced the number of patients waiting more than 104 days for treatment from the levels at the peak of the pandemic.”

Dr Lim said creating non-covid “green sites” the use of the Spire and BMI Sandringham hospitals which provided 24 cancer procedures, 44 other high priority procedures and 1,000 outpatient and chemotherapy treatments a week.

The report said the CCG will work with local Primary Care Networks to improve earlier cancer diagnosis rates and cancer screening uptakes.

Dr Lim said plans were to see elective surgery rise above 90pc in October and above 90pc by November for outpatient and diagnostics by increasing the use of the independent sector.

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