Waiting times for the start of cancer treatment were the worst in the country

The news has emerged as reported cases of cancer in the area have risen by a fifth in the last 12 months.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW), which was in financial special measures until the end of last year, has been struggling to meet key government targets related to a range of waiting times.

The Trust, which serves more than half a million people in West Kent, including the residents of Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge, managed to get itself out of a budgetary regime that it had been on since August 2016, by reducing its deficit by £15million due to ‘negotiating better deals’.

It said at the time that it meant hospital management would now focus its attention to meeting targets for patient service, but it has slipped down to the bottom of the table when it comes to treating cancer patients.

At one point last month MTW was ranked 131 out of 131 NHS trusts in getting patients to start cancer treatment within 62 days of a GP referral. The Trust , that also runs Maidstone Hospital, was 129th at the end of last year. The Trust also runs Maidstone Hospital.

The government target for cancer treatment following a GP referral is 85 per cent of patients, with MTW only achieving 63.3 per cent, ranking it bottom of England and Wales. The national average is 81 per cent.

As reported in the Times, cancer rates in the region have increased, especially among young people, which the MTW trust says could be due to factors such as poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and drinking.

“In our cancer services, we are seeing a large increase in demand with over 20% more suspected cancer referrals now than this time last year,” said a spokesperson for the MTW trust.

“It is our absolute priority that MTW delivers the national standards on waiting times.

“We’ve made changes to increase the number of patients we see, diagnose and treat to respond to this demand. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of patients that are waiting for cancer treatment and we are confident that we will soon be hitting the national cancer standards.

“From the actions the Trust has taken, we have seen an improvement in our RTT performance and waiting times, and we will continue to see this improve with the long term plan we have put in place.

“We still have more we need to do, but we’re building on the good actions we’ve already taken that are delivering results and have implemented a robust plan to continue to improve our performance and patient experience.”

Nationally, the picture is not much better. One in four cancer patients in England and Wales are waiting more than the targeted 62 days for a referral, which is putting at risk more than 127,000 people, say charity Macmillan Cancer Support.

“January 2019 marks five years since the 62-day cancer target was first missed and, despite the best efforts of hard working NHS staff, more than 127,000 people have been left waiting too long to start vital treatment throughout that time,” said Dr Fran Woodard, executive director of policy and impact at the charity.

“Behind the numbers are real people who tell us how delays cause real anxiety for them and their loved ones at a time when they are already trying to deal with the many worries cancer is throwing their way.”

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