Hospitals failed to treat thousands of cancer patients fast enough last year, prompting fears that NHS cancer care is deteriorating as the service comes under intense pressure.
The health service breached a number of its performance targets relating to patients with breast, lung, urological and lower gastrointestinal cancers during 2014-15.
Official figures released on Wednesday by NHS England show that up to a quarter of patients with three common types of the disease did not receive their first treatment within the required 62 days, despite having been urgently referred for it by their GP.
The NHS is supposed to ensure that 85% of such patients undergo their “first definitive treatment” within 62 days. But the latest cancer waiting times annual report shows just 83.4% of patients received surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy within that timeframe.
Just 73.3% of those with lower gastrointestinal cancers (of the colon, rectum and anus) did so last year – the worst performance for any of the five main types of the disease where it is measured. The target was also missed in patients with lung cancer (75.3%), and urological (bladder and kidney) cancer (78%).