99.9% of National Health Service patients in England were seen within two weeks from urgent referral by their general practitioner for suspected cancer to outpatient appointment during first-quarter 2008-9 (April-June), the Department of Health has reported. This is the same percentage as in first-quarter 2007-8 and marginally up on the 99.8% level reported for fourth quarter 2007-8.

Performance during April–June on this standard, and four others for cancer, remained around the highest-ever recorded levels, says the Department, with:
- 99.8% of breast cancer patients being treated within one month from diagnosis to treatment, compared to 99.7% in both the first and fourth quarters of 2007-08;
- 99.6% of patients treated within two months from urgent GP referral to treatment for breast cancer, up slightly on the fourth quarter’s 99.5% but down on first-quarter 2007-8’s 99.8%;
- 99.6% of patients being treated within one month from diagnosis to treatment for all cancers, the same percentage as in last year’s first quarter and marginally up on the fourth quarter’s 99.5%; and
- 97.1% of patients treated within two months from urgent GP referral to treatment for all cancers, up from 96.9% in the same period last year and 96.8% in the fourth quarter.

Inpatient/outpatient wait times

The Department has also published new data on hospital inpatient and outpatient waiting times, which show that 39,400 patients “for whom English commissioners are responsible” had been waiting for over 13 weeks at the end of July for an inpatient admission, 1,800 (4.9%) more than in June but 45,400 (53.5%) fewer than in July 2007. 82 such patients had been waiting more than 26 weeks for a hospital admission by end-July, it adds.

The number of decisions to admit had risen by 71,700 (6.5%) from the fourth quarter and 142,800 (13.9%) since first-quarter 2007-8, while the number of admissions from the list had grown 11,700 (1.1%) and 119,400 (12.8%, respectively.

Also at end-July, 303 patients for whom English commissioners are responsible had been waiting more than 13 weeks for a first outpatient appointment following GP referral; of these, 57 were English residents waiting for appointments in Welsh hospitals, says the Department. 35,100 patients had been waiting for more than eight weeks, up 5,800 (19.8%) from June but down 28,00 (44.4%) compared with July 2007.

The number of GP referrals rose 358,600 (15.6%) over first-quarter 2007-8, and first attendances at consultant outpatient clinics grew 441,800 (13.8%) to 3.6 million, with total attendances up 1,092,400 (10.5%) to 11.5 million. 9.5% of patients failed to attend their first outpatient appointment, 0.6% more than in first-quarter 2007-8.

Finally, the Department reports that 14,700 operations were cancelled at the last minute for non-clinical reasons during the quarter compared to 12,500 in the same period last year and that, overall, the NHS in England had 3,498 open and staffed adult critical care beds in the period, which is 25 more beds than at January 15 this year and 71 more than a year ago.

- Last month, the Scottish NHS reported its best-ever performance in reducing cancer wait times, with 94.1% of patients being treated within two months of an urgent referral in January-March 2008 compared with 84.5% in the same period last year. However, it failed to meet the 95% target set by the government.