Increase in Norfolk cancer patients waiting longer than national treatment target

Laura Hughes, 27, of Grove Road, Norwich.

Laura Hughes, 27, of Grove Road, Norwich. - Credit: Archant

More patients are not being treated for cancer in time by national standards at Norfolk hospitals.

Figures from NHS England show two of the three trusts in the county missed a key target for the disease overall in 2014/15 - prolonging uncertainty for people and their families.

One in five patients at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn, and James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust combined have had to wait longer than 62 days for treatment from their first GP referral for suspected cancer.

An increase in demand and subsequent drop in performance has led to trusts setting up action plans in an attempt to achieve the standards expected by the NHS.

Trusts are expected to ensure no fewer than 85% of the patients start treatment within 62 days.

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Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (N&N) saw 415 patients wait longer than 62 days against a total of 1,672 treated overall.

That means the trust missed its target by 10%, bringing down the county's performance.

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The trust has been criticised by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission for missing targets for cancer, A&E, and referral to treatment, after enduring its busiest winter.

Last week the Eastern Daily Press revealed the trust had to cancel more than 1,000 non-emergency operations on the day patients were due to arrive in hospital.

Anna Dugdale, chief executive at NNUH said: 'Over the last year referrals to the Norfolk and Norwich for suspected cancers have been almost double the national year on year increase. This has put significant pressure on our services.

'In addition to this a number of patients referred to the Norfolk and Norwich hospital require very specialist care.

'We have added extra theatre lists and diagnostic services and recruited additional staff in order to keep up with this demand.

'We are extremely conscious of the anxiety that cancer patients experience whilst waiting for treatment and we have started to see an improvement in waiting times.

'To ensure we offer the best service to our cancer patients we are reviewing all our cancer pathways to further reduce waits and achieve the national targets.'

At Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn, which is currently in special measures, 84.93% of patients started treatment within two months meaning the trust missed the target by a fraction.

But according to their board papers, the trust's performance on the 62-day target was set to deteriorate in April, May, and June.

Clive Walsh, chief operating officer at the trust, said they were sending patients' samples to the N&N in an effort to improve waiting times.

He said: 'The trust takes the issue of waiting times for cancer treatment very seriously and has met the expected cancer waiting times for treatment within 62 days in March and April.

'We remain concerned about the delays in reporting on Histopathology (tissue) specimens across Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

'As part of our drive towards excellence in all aspects of patient care we commissioned an external review of cancer waiting times and process from the national experts at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London.'

'They made eight recommendations which we are implementing.'

James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust achieved the 85% target for the last financial year, but the trust has seen its performance dip beneath the threshold in March and April.

Sue Watkinson, the trust's director of operations, said: 'Increasing demand has meant that we just fell short of the target for patients treated within 62 days from being urgently referred by a GP in March and April 2015.

'An action plan is in place to manage this demand.'

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, hit the target in all four quarters of the year.

The 62-day target is one of several cancer standards trusts are expected to achieve.

Have you waited long for your cancer treatment? Email our health correspondent at

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