Only two-thirds of people at Northumbria Healthcare Trust discover bowel cancer diagnosis within four weeks

Only two-thirds of people urgently referred to Northumbria Healthcare Trust with suspected bowel cancer receive a diagnosis or an all-clear within four weeks, figures reveal.

Tuesday, 31st August 2021, 1:18 pm
Only two-thirds of people through Northumbria Healthcare Trust discover bowel cancer diagnosis within four weeks. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Cancer support charities say urgent investment is required to tackle workforce shortages and reduce waiting times across England which they say can tragically slim patients' chances of survival.

The figures come just months away from the introduction of a new NHS target for three-quarters of all suspected cancer patients to get their diagnosis within four weeks.

NHS England figures show in June, 351 out of 515 patients (68%) with suspected cancer at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust had received their test results within 28 days of an urgent GP referral.

Of the patients who were forced to wait longer, 18 had to wait at least 62 days.

Proportionately, suspected bowel cancer patients were more likely to wait over four weeks than those being tested for breast or skin cancers following an urgent referral to the trust.

The figures exclude those referred through screening programmes, where it is not mandatory to log the cancer type.

From October, NHS trusts will be required to provide a result to 75% of all suspected cancer patients within four weeks as part of the new faster diagnosis standard.

It is aimed at getting treatment started sooner to those who need it, and placing minds at rest more quickly for those who are all-clear.

Tom Lee, consultant gastroenterologist at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “Patients in Northumberland and North Tyneside should be reassured that they have access to one of the best endoscopy services in the country, with short waiting lists and which showed great resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The 68% figure quoted for June’s Faster Diagnostic Standard was actually the best in the North East and among the best in the country, while our performance was even stronger in May at 80%.

“Another measure worth considering is the two-week wait for suspected cancers. In June, 97.5% of patients with suspected bowel cancer were seen by a specialist at the Trust within 14 days, which again was the best in the region.

“I would encourage anyone with concerning symptoms to present to their GP for urgent cancer investigations and in the case of bowel cancer, patients will have a colonoscopy within two weeks in most cases.

“We understand that people have been nervous about coming into hospital during the pandemic and that the NHS has been facing extreme demand during this time, but we’re working extremely hard to provide the best possible service.”

But charity Bowel Cancer UK said staffing shortages meant more funding was needed to carry out enough endoscopies, which can diagnose bowel cancer.

Chief executive Genevieve Edwards said: "Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer, but it's treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early, and it's tragic that some patients will face poorer outcomes as a result of having to wait too long for tests and treatment."

Separate NHS England figures also show how many people were waiting for an endoscopy in June.

At Northumbria Healthcare Trust, 315 people were on the waiting list – including six who had been waiting six weeks or more and one on the list for at least 13 weeks.

Across England, 88,000 people were waiting for an endoscopy in June.