Mapped: How some regions of East Anglia are failing to treat cancer patients fast enough

It's very important for cancer patients to start treatment quickly in order for them to make a full

It's very important for cancer patients to start treatment quickly in order for them to make a full recovery. Photo credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Cancer patients in parts of East Anglia are waiting longer for life-saving treatment than people in neighbouring areas, this newspaper can reveal today.

Our analysis outlines the differences across Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire for how quickly patients with the illness are treated.

It comes as a national charity highlighted an 'unacceptable' variation in cancer survival rates throughout England.

Health chiefs said they were working closely with hospitals to improve access to treatment.

With cancer rates rising – one in two people will get the illness during their lifetime – rapid access to treatment is vital.

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The NHS is therefore tasked with providing treatment to patients no longer than 62 days after referral – in 85pc of cases.

However the rising demand and pressures on hospitals has contributed to a drop in performance.

And figures, published by NHS England, show that since April (the start of the 2016/17 financial year):

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The highest number of patients waiting longer than 62 days are in north and west Norfolk.

Both the Norfolk and Norwich and Queen Elizabeth (King's Lynn) hospitals are missing the 62-day target.

Of the 3,818 patients treated for cancer across East Anglia (including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough), 591 waited longer than 62 days; taking the region's performance to 84.5pc.

Missing the target opens the potential to lose additional funding given by NHS England to help hospitals improve their services.

A spokesman for North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group said its leaders met N&N chiefs every fortnight and reviewed all patients with clinical staff to ensure patients were seen in a 'safe and timely manner'.

Asked why north Norfolk was missing the target, the spokesman said: 'The reasons for this are many – including continued increase in the number of referrals, and cancer pathways have become more complex in recent years with additional diagnostic and treatment techniques now available.'

They said the CCG anticipated hitting the target again by early 2017.

Over in west Norfolk, local NHS chiefs recently agreed an 'action plan' with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to address the waiting-time issue.

A West Norfolk CCG spokesman said there is 'no magic bullet' to fixing the problem.

They said: 'In reality there are at least 11 different pathways within individual clinical specialties.

'The numbers of patients going through some of these pathways will be quite small in number and very specialist.

'There are many factors that can cause undue delays such as

specialist clinical staff being unavailable for a period, as well as delays in accessing diagnostic and pathology tests and results.

There have been increases in demand in some specialties and this can occur in quite an uneven fashion.'

Three of eight areas in East Anglia are currently treating enough patients fast enough following referral, with the best performing area being Great Yarmouth and Waveney.

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'The treatment was very exhaustive'

A 55-year old former patient has described how difficult undergoing cancer treatment can be.

Annabella Perera, 55, of King's Lynn, was diagnosed with type two breast cancer in 2014.

She was unaware of the cancer at first and was initially receiving treatment for depression, before she was referred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for a mammogram.

It was after this that Miss Perera was told she had cancer, and she then embarked on treatment – during which she suffered 'constant pain'.

Fortunately for Miss Perera, who used to be a chef, she began treatment within the 62-day target.

'The treatment was very exhaustive, especially chemotherapy,' she said.

'It was very painful. You don't feel like eating and I lost my hair.

'Even after treatment I felt constant pain, especially on the left hand side of my breast.'

Miss Perera is among the thousands of cancer patients who was helped by Big C, the largest cancer charity in Norfolk.

'Without them I feel that I wouldn't be here,' she said.

'At one point I was giving up on myself with the treatment.

The cancer has left Miss Perera with muscle pain, and she will remain on medication for the rest of her life.

For more information on the Big C charity click here.

National charity warns of postcode lottery for survival rates

Not accessing treatment fast enough has been cited by a national charity as a key factor in why patients still face a postcode lottery for cancer survival.

Figures published last week showed survival rates have improved by around 10pc across England, but Macmillan Cancer Support say the variation between regions remains too great.

The survival rates, published by the Office for National Statistics, ranged from 64.7pc to 74.5pc in individual areas.

Lynda Thomas, pictured, chief executive of Macmillan, said: 'Yet again we see a postcode lottery when it comes to cancer care and it is unacceptable. Cancer patients should be able to focus on getting better or getting their life back on track, not worrying about whether their chance of survival could be affected by where they live.

'There are a number of reasons for such a huge variation in survival rates.

'It could be because people are not being diagnosed early enough; it could be due to a lack of awareness about signs and symptoms and shortfalls in diagnostic capacity; or it may be that people are not always getting access to the treatment they need.'

Survival rates in East Anglia grew from around 60pc to 70pc between 1999 and 2014, the figures showed.

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