‘A terrifying crisis’: 72% of London hospital trusts failed to hit a key cancer waiting times target

More than two thirds of NHS trusts failed to ensure at least 93% of patients with suspected cancer were seen within 14 days - a crucial metric known as the two week wait.

More than 70% of London hospital trusts have failed to hit a key cancer waiting time target, as NHS backlogs mount following the Covid-19 crisis, shock data has revealed.

Charities and opposition politicians have branded the horror stats a “terrifying crisis”.

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While a woman diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer told LondonWorld: “I’s not about the statistics, it’s the number of people behind them.

“We all need to remember that these are people’s lives - vulnerable people - who aren’t being helped.

Thirteen out of 18, or 72%, of London NHS trusts failed to ensure at least 93% of patients with suspected cancer were seen within 14 days - a crucial metric known as the two week wait.

Just five hospitals in the capital achieved a 93% or higher score in March 2022, according to the latest NHS waiting time stats published today (Thursday, May 12).

Cancer Research UK said people were being failed by the system

One London cancer patient told LondonWorld delays to appointments during the Covid-19 lockdowns were “nerve wracking” and that being “left in limbo” was “soul-destroying”.

The worst performing London hospitals on the two week wait cancer target were Whittington Health NHS Trust and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, which ensured just 62% and 68% of patients were seen by specialists within the 14 day deadline.

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The two best performing hospitals in the capital were Barts Health NHS Trust and King’s College Hospital NHS Trust - which each scored 96% and 95% on the two week target.

Epsom and St Helier and Kingston Hospital NHS Trusts are both taking part in a national pilot scheme aiming to take patients from first GP appointment to diagnosis within 28 days - so a score was not given by the NHS under the two week timeframe.

However, data analysis by LondonWorld revealed that while Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust scored 93% in March, Kingston Hospital achieved just 82% that month.

Speaking to LondonWorld, Judith Neptial, 50, from Romford, east London, who was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer in 2018, said she was shocked by the statistics.

Cancer patient Judith Neptial, left, with her daughter. Photo: Judith Neptial

The former psychotherapist, who runs a black cancer patients support group, said: “Two in three is a lot of people but it’s not about the statistics, it’s the number of people behind them.

“We all need to remember that these are people’s lives - vulnerable people - who aren’t being helped.

“It’s really sad, because I really do believe the NHS does really want to help people.

“But we’re in a situation where for whatever reason, it’s not happening.”

BBC presenter Deborah James has told fans she doesn’t know “how long I’ve got left” (Photo: Deborah James / bowelbabe Instagram)

Ms Neptial said while her cancer was diagnosed prior to the pandemic and is now stable thanks to a clinical trial, the lockdown meant she was left unable to see her doctors at times.

She said: “As a cancer patient, speaking to somebody on the phone, when you’re living with a life-threatening illness, not being able to see a doctor is a major issue for a lot of people.”

One man who joined her support group who had been diagnosed at the beginning of the pandemic with prostate cancer was unsure whether he wanted to opt for chemotherapy.

He was then not seen again for another nine months, Ms Neptial said.

Macmillan Cancer Support leaflets. Photo: Getty

“Being told you have cancer and being unable to get scans, to see anybody, to know how it’s progressing - to say that it’s nerve wracking is an understatement,” she said.

“Treatment in different boroughs can be a little bit like a postcode lottery.”

She added: “When you have a life-threatening illness, just to be left in limbo, is soul-destroying.

“It’s almost like a death sentence upon a death sentence and that’s horrific.”

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Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who has previously suffered kidney cancer, said: “Cancer care is in crisis, with terrifyingly large numbers of people waiting longer than they should to be seen, with the insecurity of not knowing.

“I know from my own treatment how important an early diagnosis is when it comes to cancer.

The Labour MP for Ilford North added: “The Conservatives blame the pandemic, but the state of cancer care has been worsening every year since 2010, and the NHS had record numbers of patients waiting for care and 100,000 staff shortages before Covid hit.

“It’s not that the Conservatives didn’t fix the roof when the sun was shining, they dismantled the roof and removed the floorboards.”

Shadow Secretary of State for Child Poverty Wes Streeting. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

Emma Tingley, from Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “There is clearly still a lot of work to be done to get cancer services back on track and tackle the backlog in London.

“Thousands of people are still facing unacceptably long waits for a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“The government must urgently provide the long-term investment needed to grow and support the cancer workforce, which was severely overstretched even before the pandemic.”

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “We are improving outcomes for cancer patients across England and our new 10-year cancer plan will set out how we will lead Europe in cancer care.

“Our plan to tackle the Covid backlog and reduce cancer waiting times includes rolling out up to 160 community diagnostic centres across the country – with 88 already open and over 800,000 additional scans delivered – and our record investment in the NHS will help deliver an extra nine million checks, scans and operations by 2025.

“There are record numbers of doctors, nurses and overall staff working in the NHS, and we are over halfway towards meeting our commitment to recruiting 50,000 additional nurses by 2024.”

Whittington Hospital NHS Trust and NHS London have been contacted for comment.