Quarter of Norfolk cancer patients waited more than two months for treatment in NHS 'hidden crisis'
PUBLISHED: 06:50 02 May 2019 | UPDATED: 07:51 02 May 2019
More than a quarter of cancer patients in Norfolk had to wait more than two months for their first treatment as doctors' leaders declared there was a "hidden crisis" in the NHS.
The aim is for 85pc of cancer patients to be treated within 62 days of referral, but between December and February 225 (26.7pc) patients across Norfolk's three hospitals were “left in limbo”, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
BMA council chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “Behind these statistics, which show the NHS plunged deeper into crisis this winter, are stories of real lives in distress. Forcing a patient to wait two months for their first cancer treatment is shameful for a leading nation and as a doctor, I can imagine only too well the distress this will cause to them and their families. It also places stress on the clinicians who treat them as they are well aware that the cancer may have worsened during the delay between referral and treatment.”
The worst performance was at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), where 30pc of patients were not treated within the timeframe.
But both the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn also missed the target, with 20pc and 22pc respectively waiting longer.
Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at NNUH, said: “Every winter is a very busy time for the whole of the NHS and this winter was no exception. Our staff continue to do a fantastic job when faced with the continued rise in demand and are working hard to provide the best possible care to our patients.”
Even during the most busiest of times, we aim to not cancel cancer patients and we continue to admit cancer patients and patients of the highest priority wherever possible.”
Performance was better for the target of patients being seen by a specialist within 14 days of an urgent referral, with both the JPUH and QEH hitting the 93pc target at 95pc and 96pc respectively.
But the NNUH again lagged behind at 87pc being seen within two weeks, bringing Norfolk's total to 91pc of patients seen on time.
BMA patient liaison group chairman, Amanda Cool, said: “When a patient receives a cancer diagnosis it is devastating. What that individual need is rapid, urgent assessment to ensure they get the treatment they need. These latest figures show that thousands of patients are being left in limbo and that the NHS is now missing its own targets across the board.”
While Dr Nagpaul added: “The government needs to realise that the crisis in the NHS is not going away as our health service struggles in an underfunded and understaffed environment against a backdrop of rising patient demand.
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“We need urgently to ensure that the NHS is provided with the 10,000 extra beds its needs and that funding is brought up to levels enjoyed by other leading Western European countries, a target that will not be reached under the government's recently announced Long Term Plan for the NHS.”
A report released by the BMA on Thursday also showed other key targets missed by the largest margin on record.
Writing separately for the BMA, an anonymous emergency care doctor describes wards “bursting with patients awaiting beds” and how “when a critically ill patient arrives now I'm not sure where I'll put them.”
Analysis showed six people were left waiting in A&E departments in Norfolk for more than 12 hours over winter and none of the county's hospitals hit the 95pc for seeing patients who arrived at A&E within four hours.
The NNUH performed the worst, with 63.3pc of patients seen, followed by the QEH at 78.8pc and then the JPUH at 82pc.
The JPUH and QEH were approached for comment.
Labour MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis, said: “This is awful news for local patients and loved ones forced to worry and wait for cancer treatment to begin. These are the real consequences for real people of nine years of running down the NHS, imposing the biggest funding squeeze in its history and creating a chronic shortage of NHS staff.”
What do the doctors say?
BMA members, speaking anonymously to the association, gave their accounts of the winter pressures.
• “Monday evening, I worked the worst shift I have EVER worked in the ED. The queue on my corridor was so long it wasn't even in my department anymore. It was snaking through the main hospital. Told by paramedics that the whole region is in meltdown. At one point there were 25 outstanding 999 calls in my region and NO free crews as they were all marooned on corridors. It's been horrendous for weeks now and shows no sign of letting up. In fact the last three weeks have been the busiest ever. We cannot carry on like this much longer.”
• “On April 1 we had our busiest ever day in our ED. 638 attendances in 24 hours. I was on the night shift and it was the worst that I can remember. No beds of course. It was only a year ago when 550 in 24 hours was a busy day for us. We dreaded the day when we might hit 600. That's now normal...”
• ”EDs are queued out of the door, everyone seems to be flat out too. Part of me wonders whether we've actually come close to maximum capacity. I can't see this going on for much longer without people starting to drop.”
• ”In psychiatry, we have seen a doubling of referrals over two to three years with no extra staff, from 350 patients a year to 800.”