NHS performance has taken another downturn on key cancer targets and waiting times for planned surgery, show the latest data from NHS England.

In January, just 79.7 percent of patients began treatment within 62 days of being referred by a GP which, according to Cancer Research UK, is the worst performance since the target was introduced back in 2009.

The charity also points out this target has now been missed annually for three years, and that, given the rising rates of cancer and expanding population, it means that more people than ever are experiencing delays to treatment.

“Cancer targets exist to ensure quick diagnosis and access to treatment, and provide a snapshot of how the NHS is performing for patients,” said Emma Greenwood, CR UK’s Director of Policy. “The Government and NHS England have committed to improving early diagnosis of cancer, including increasing investment, but it’s clear that this is yet to have an impact.”

“These figures are a warning sign that we are not on track,” she added, stressing: “Urgent action is needed now to give our patients the care they deserve and the best chance of surviving”.

Meanwhile, with the number of people waiting more than a year for planned surgery has almost doubled in the last 12 months, leaping from 728 at the end of January 2016 to 1,433 patients at the end of January 2017.

The government’s target to ensure 92 percent of patients wait no longer than 18 weeks from referral to treatment for elective procedures, such as hip and knee operations, has been missed from February last year.

Commenting on the “worrying growth”, the NHS Partners Network has warned that the government must increase awareness among patients of their right to choose where they receive NHS treatment.

Only 50 percent of patients are aware of their legal right to choose from which provider they receive NHS care and only 40 percent recall being offered a choice of hospital by their GP, it said, citing NHS England figures.

Elective capacity
“NHS hospitals are currently working flat out to cope with the pressures in A&E, however, it is important that the millions of people requiring vital elective treatment such as hip operations and cataracts are not forgotten,” noted David Hare, chief executive, NHS Partners Network.

“The NHS is currently desperately short of elective capacity and it has never been more important for the Government to remind patients’ of their right to choose their provider of care to ensure they can access the quickest available treatment.”

Elsewhere, the number of people who were admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within four hours of arrival - a key barometer for pressures on the system - hit 85.1 percent, falling well below the 95 percent standard, which was last met in July 2015.

There was also a huge increase in delayed transfers of care, with 197,054 delayed days in January 2017 compared to 159,641 in January last year.