National Health Service targets for treating patients referred with suspected cancer have been missed for the six quarter in a row, fuelling concern that services are buckling under the pressure of rising demand and financial constraints.

The NHS in England is expected to treat at least 85% of patients within 62 days of being referred by a GP with suspected cancer, but in the latest quarter just 82% were treated in this timeframe, marking the worst result since 2009.

Emma Greenwood, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said the figures meant that thousands of patients were being failed. 

“There have been repeated failures to meet the target for the last 18 months, and half of all NHS trusts in England are now breaching the ‘62 day target’. England’s cancer survival already lags behind comparable countries and will only get worse if the target continues to be breached. This cannot be allowed to continue,” she said.

The charity called for urgent action to put the recommendations in the new Cancer Strategy into practice. "We need to support the NHS and ensure it has the resources it needs to meet this challenge,” Greenwood said.

Increasing demand

Meanwhile, figures released by NHS England also show increasing demand across services, with ambulance call-outs up 7% in the year to June, A&E visits up 1.1%, emergency admissions up 2.7%, diagnostic tests up 5.8%, and consultant-led treatment up 5.1%.

Overall, in urgent and emergency care, targets were not met in the quarter for A&E waiting times and the three ambulance standards, while in elective care standards were met for referral to consultant-led treatment within 18 weeks and for six of the eight cancer standards, but not for diagnostic tests, treatment within 62 days from urgent GP referral for suspected cancer or two week wait referrals for patients with breast symptoms (where cancer was not initially suspected).