Posted on 4 Sep 2013
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Cancer Waiting Times Published

Oliver Thorne comments on the RD&E treatment waiting times

NHS England has released statistics which reveal the performance of hospital trusts for referrals of suspected cancer cases to specialists.

Under NHS guidelines, patients under urgent referrals are supposed to see specialists within two weeks; in the case of Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust (RD&E), this target was met in 93.6% of the cases surveyed. North Bristol NHS Trust fared slightly better with 95.1%, although both Birmingham's Community Healthcare and Children's Hospital trusts reached 100%.

The 'operational standard', or realistic practical target as espoused by NHS England, is set at 93%. Only two Trusts failed to meet this target, although the overall 2-week referral figures saw a fall from 95.7% in the previous quarter to 95.5%.

Michelmores' Oliver Thorne recently commented on the impact that waiting for cancer treatment can have on patients and their families, 'Targets missed for RD&E Cancer treatment waiting times' and views the new figures with caution. 'Obviously it won't always be possible to meet the 100% target for referrals,' he says, 'but Birmingham and other trusts have shown that it can be done.

NHS England insisted that where there had been failure to meet targets, these were attributable to factors other than mismanagement. Their commentary on the statistics states:

'As with other waiting times commitments, 100% achievement is not expected. For any given period, there will be a number of patients who are not available for treatment within a waiting time standard because they elect to delay their treatment (patient choice), are unfit for their treatment or it would be clinically inappropriate to treat them within the standard time.'

Oliver acknowledges this reasoning, although he feels that greater flexibility might help to ensure all urgent referrals were seen within 2 weeks, working around the needs of patients.

'What we would hope to see, ideally, is measured improvement,' he says. 'In some fields, a 93.6% success rate would be a good reason to take your foot off the pedal for a while, but in healthcare you're taking about people's lives, and the wellbeing of their families. 93.6% should be seen as a good starting point.'

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