NHS falling further behind on cancer targets in Northumberland

Cancer specialists in Northumberland risk missing treatment targets because of a surge in referrals from outside the county.

Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 1:37 pm
Health trusts have struggled to keep ahead of cancer treatment targets during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hospital trusts across the country have struggled to keep up with demand over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to large waiting lists and backlogs.

But while Northumberland has managed to largely keep pace for much of the last 18 months, it has now fallen behind, with performance now at its lowest level since 2019.

“We were probably one of the only organisations nationally that managed to maintain cancer performance throughout Covid, but we have struggled since May,” said Birju Bartoli, executive director of performance and improvement at Northumbria Healthcare.

“This is particularly down to two main factors.

“Tumour sites around urology and colorectal have seen an increase in referrals, partly, we think, due to referrals that were held back [because] of Covid.

“And we also think that we have seen a number of referrals now that are from outside our more usual catchment area.

“We think that is because we have been delivering the standard [previously], so more people are being referred to us as a consequence, because they can be seen quicker.”

Under NHS guidelines, hospital trusts are supposed to ensure at least 85 per cent of cancer patients start treatment within 62 days of their referral.

Despite previous struggles with the target, Northumberland actually managed to exceed expectations in the early days of the pandemic, according to a report prepared for Northumberland County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

By late 2020, bosses were failing to meet the target however and, despite rallying slightly early in 2021, the slide has continued.

Pressure on diagnostic tests and scans has also made keeping up with waiting lists difficult.

In the first lockdown, doctors were told to put much of their usual work on hold, particularly anything considered an ‘aerosol generating’ procedure which could spread Covid-19.

Last summer, extra clinical sessions were scheduled to try to clear backlogs, as well as deal with patients who avoided seeking medical advice previously due to concerns over the virus.

But the subsequent ‘second wave’ of infections, coupled with the recent ‘pingdemic’, which has seen hundreds of appointments cancelled after staff were forced to isolate, has hit capacity further as managers begin preparations for winter.

Local Democracy Reporting Service