Cancer waiting time target missed in Wales despite pledge

Cancer charity Macmillan said it was disappointed more patients weren't being seen

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Waiting time targets for urgent cancer cases in Wales are still being missed, despite a pledge they would be met by March.

The Welsh government target is for 95% of patients to see a specialist in 62 days, but the latest figure is 84%.

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board had 69.9% of patients start treatment in time while Aneurin Bevan achieved 98%.

The Welsh government said most patients are seen within the target.

Launching its cancer patient experience survey on Wednesday, the Welsh government said poor weather had contributed to the "disappointing" figures.

Start Quote

It is disappointing that neither target has been achieved during the last quarter for the cancer waiting times”

End Quote Welsh government spokesperson

The target has not been met since Carwyn Jones became first minister in December 2009.

He was challenged by Conservative AM Angela Burns in January to give "an update on when you might be able to meet the cancer waiting times targets that you agreed to adhere to?"

He replied: "We expect to keep that promise by the end of March."

However, during the first quarter to March, official figures released show that only 83.6% (1,165 out of 1,393 patients) diagnosed with urgent suspected cancer had started treatment within 62 days.

It marks the lowest quarterly figure of Mr Jones's leadership after peaking at almost 94% in the quarter to September 2010.

'Complex'

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "The large majority of patients are seen within the target time.

"The number of patients involved in these statistics are relatively small and the interventions are often complex, meaning small changes can affect the overall picture generally.

"It is disappointing that neither target has been achieved during the last quarter for the cancer waiting times.

"Performance has been affected by the severe winter pressures experienced in January 2013 and the poor weather experienced in March 2013.

"Whilst performance against the 62 day target has not improved in line with expectations for the quarter as a whole, it is encouraging to note that performance in the month of March 2013 was four percentage points higher than in February 2013 and the highest monthly performance since October 2012.

"The Welsh government expects this improved trend to continue into this financial year."

Start Quote

Although many patients are receiving treatment on time, a significant number aren't - that's not good enough and it needs to be improved quickly”

End Quote Susan Morris Macmillan Cancer Support

The figures also showed that 97.4% of non-urgent cancer cases began treatment within 31 days - narrowly missing the 98% target.

However, the 98% target has been met in 11 of the last 13 quarters, most recently in the last of 2012.

The Welsh Conservatives, who promised to ring-fence NHS spending in their 2011 assembly manifesto, blame the missed targets on the"£800m cuts to the health budget".

A party spokesperson said: "When a patient receives the devastating news that they have suspected cancer, rapid progression to treatment is vital, but unfortunately Labour's NHS cuts are constraining capacity and putting additional pressure on already stretched staff."

'Consistent action'

Cancer charity Macmillan called the figures "very disappointing".

Susan Morris, general manager for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales, said: "There does need to be a real focus of action about how we get continuous improvement, not just on a one-off basis.

"Clearly some things need to change quite radically to make sure that there is consistent action and consistency of delivery around Wales."

In June 2012, the Welsh government launched a five year plan, called Together for Health: Cancer Delivery Plan, that aimed to cut cancer rates, improve care and survival rates.

The plan also included a commitment to carry out a national cancer patient experience survey.

This is the first national survey in Wales and will give cancer patients the opportunity to review the services they received.

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