A fifth of cancer patients at the Princess Alexandra Hospital are waiting longer than two months for treatment, new figures show.

NHS data shows that in The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust (PAHT), just 81 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in 2019-20.

That was slightly down from 82 per cent in 2018-19.

It means 123 patients waited longer than two months, and the trust fell below the 85 per cent target introduced a decade ago.

Nationally, just 77 per cent of patients in England received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral in 2019-20 – the lowest rate on record.

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at charity Cancer Research UK, said the figures indicate the start of the impact of the virus on cancer waiting times, but "don’t provide the whole picture".

She added that the fall in urgent referrals, which worsened into April, is "very concerning" and means thousands of patients who need vital cancer care are in a backlog.

“The NHS is working hard to create ‘Covid-free’ sites for cancer care. An essential part of this is frequent testing of NHS staff and patients, including those without symptoms. But it’s clear this is not happening quickly enough," she said.

"Patients need to know that cancer hospitals are a safe place to go. Lives are in jeopardy.

Record delays for a range of medical tests were also logged at PAHT in March, as services across the NHS were suspended during the Covid-19 crisis.

NHS trusts provide information on how long people have been waiting for 15 key tests at the end of each month.

The procedures are used to diagnose a wide range of diseases and conditions, including cancers, heart failure, sleep disorders and hearing problems.

According to NHS rules, after someone is referred for one of the tests, they should have it completed within six weeks.

But NHS England data shows 1,117 patients at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust had been kept longer than that at the end of March.

At 18.0 per cent of those on the waiting list, this was the highest rate of hold-ups for the month since comparable local records began in 2014.

Of those who were not seen on time, three had been on the list at least 13 weeks.

Stephanie Lawton, chief operating officer at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, said: “We are committed to supporting patients through the diagnosis and treatment of cancer with high quality care.

“Teams across the hospital are dedicated to ensuring that patients receive a diagnosis at the earliest opportunity and are then supported holistically with the physical and emotional challenges that can present during treatment for cancer.

“In relation to coronavirus (COVID-19), we have ensured that all patients have the opportunity to discuss plans for their care with their clinician and all urgent treatment and surgery has gone ahead. We follow all infection prevention and control guidelines to protect our patients and our people.

“We make every effort to ensure that our patients undergo their diagnostic tests and treatment quickly and we continue to focus on enhancing the experience of patients with cancer, working to ensure faster pathways for diagnosis.”

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