Headlines: June 28th, 2005

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has warned health managers that targets for improving cancer services and reducing waiting times for treatment must be met. The warning comes after preliminary data shows that some NHS Trusts are not making the progress expected on cutting waiting times.The NHS Cancer Plan, published in 2000, set out two targets for cancer waiting times. All patients with cancer who have been urgently referred by their GP should begin treatment within a maximum of 62 days of referral. In addition when a decision is taken to treat a patients diagnosed with cancer, treatment should start within a maximum of 31 days. There is clear evidence that diagnostic tests are currently causing delays which could prevent the targets not being met.

Patricia Hewitt made it clear that these are not targets for the sake of targets, but targets for the sake of patients. They are being achieved in some parts of the country and they must be achieved nationally. She stressed that redesigning services and introducing new, creative and more efficient ways of working are essential to the improvement of treatment and care of all patients. Achievement of the targets is reliant on Trusts working together to ensure that patients who are diagnosed in one Trust and treated in another are transferred quickly and efficiently.

She added: “Nobody is denying that meeting these targets for all cancer patients will be tough. We have a collective responsibility to maintain this momentum of reform, at both a national and a local level, if every cancer patient is to receive a service that compares with the best in the world.”