Cancer patient waiting times improve in Northumberland after health chiefs get back on track following missed target

Northumberland’s cancer waiting times are back on track, after a slump which saw the national target missed for more than a year.

Friday, 4th October 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 4:05 pm
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One of the performance indicators measured by the NHS across the country is that 85% of cancer patients should have seen a consultant and be in treatment, if required, within 62 days of a referral by a GP.

A report to a meeting of the county council’s health and wellbeing committee on October 1 stated: ‘Historically, Northumberland has consistently achieved national cancer waiting targets; however, in early 2018-19 performance began to decrease for a number of reasons.’

Perhaps chief among these was the rise in the number of referrals themselves; the meeting heard that this figure grew from around 800 a week to 1,500.

This meant the 62-day target ‘has been hard’ and was missed for 15 months up to July this year where the figure for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the county’s hospitals, climbed to 84.5% – just shy of the 85% requirement.

Then in August, the performance was 88% and it is on track for 87% for September, although this figured is not yet finalised.

This is a significant improvement on the 2018-19 annual performance, which was reported at 79.9% across the county – the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area.

Across the North East, five out of eight CCGs and seven out of nine acute providers failed to achieve the annual 62-day target last year.

A representative of the trust explained that a lot of work had gone into achieving this improvement, with detailed analysis revealing that most of the hold-ups were in the system and processes – the administration of scans or next appointments, etc.

So, efforts have been made to define clear milestones on the patient’s journey and the time limits within which they should be achieved with additional training for all staff who deal with cancer patients to ensure everyone knows how their role fits in.

The figures showed that while Northumbria Healthcare’s in-house performance against the waiting targets had remained fairly consistent, there were major variations when it came to tertiary providers – for example, most Northumberland patients on the prostate cancer pathway are seen and treated in Newcastle, under a different NHS trust.

Therefore, work has taken place to ensure patients are passed across to Newcastle in a timely manner and further developments plan to ensure that the computer systems across the two trusts are linked up so that information is shared properly.

Regardless of the waiting targets, Northumberland patients were extremely satisfied with the care they received last year, as previously reported, with the recent results of the 2018 National Cancer Survey showing that the Northumbria Healthcare patient experience was the highest in the North East and ninth nationally.