Hitting targets for cancer services has been ‘very challenging’ in Northumberland and North Tyneside as demand continues to surge.
The number of cancer referrals and treatments in 2018-19 was 14.5% higher than the previous year, a rise of 1,594.
Presenting an update on the Clinical Support and Cancer Services business unit at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s latest board meeting, deputy director Anne Kennedy said that while those figures were only up to the end of January, ‘the trends have continued to year end’.
Reflecting on the data which showed that the 85% urgent GP referral target had been missed by some way in December 2018 (78.5%), January 2019 (80.2%) and February 2019 (78.2%), she said: “Cancer services has been very challenging for us.”
She added: “It’s very, very challenging, it’s multifactorial, as it is nationally, but work is ongoing.”
Referral numbers for cancer pathways continue to increase, with the main tumour site impacting on performance being urology, but there are efforts to improve pathway efficiency across the piece.
Oncology units throughout the trust continue to see increased demand both as new treatments come on line and as referrals increase.
Northumbria has recently agreed investment in the units at Alnwick and Berwick, to be followed by those at Hexham, Wansbeck and North Tyneside.
The trust’s chief executive, Sir James Mackey, referring back to comments he had made earlier in the meeting, pointed out that the board was ‘talking again about demand’.
“None of this is going away,” he added, highlighting ‘a real need’ to focus on workforce, technology and new ways of working.
In this vein, it was announced on Thursday (May 30) that a new partnership, funded by national cancer transformation funds, aims to speed up diagnosis times for more than 250,000 patients across the North East and north Cumbria, using the latest digital technology.
NHS England’s £2million investment is being used by staff and specialists in the Northern Cancer Alliance to develop innovative and pioneering ways of supporting the national aim of slashing cancer waiting times by diagnosing and treating three out of four cancers at an early stage.
The new region-wide service will reduce the need to transport patient samples by creating digital images of pathology tissues by scanning glass slides, which can be shared far more easily.
The innovation will support 115 pathologists across 10 NHS hospital trusts, including Northumbria and Newcastle, who handle more than a million such slides every year.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service