• Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust reported its worst-ever breast cancer two-week waiting time result this June
  • Consultants are reluctant to take on extra work because of pensions issues
  • Trust hopes its results will recover by end of year

Pension problems and staff shortages have caused cancer waits to surge at a West Midlands trust.

In June, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust saw just 4.6 per cent of patients referred with breast symptoms within two weeks. This is the lowest result ever reported by the trust, HSJ can reveal.

Trusts are expected to see 93 per cent of such patients within two weeks to promote early breast cancer detection.

Worcestershire executives blamed the deteriorating waiting times on the national pensions crisis at July’s board meeting.

Chief operating officer Paul Brennan also told HSJ consultants across specialties are reluctant to commit to extra activities — like waiting list initiatives while the national pensions dispute continues.

He said a temporary staff shortage had added to the trust’s breast cancer waiting time problems. A vacant consultant post has since been filled.

Worcestershire last hit the target in February this year, when 96 per cent of breast symptom patients were seen within two weeks, according to earlier board papers. Since May, its results have ranged from 4.6 to 23.6 per cent.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust cancer two week wait (breast symptomatic) results

  March April May June July August 
Per cent of patients seen within two weeks 84.8 54.1* 12* 4.6* 16.1* 23.6*
No. of patients who missed wait target - 110 188 93
Total number of patients referred - - 125  224 122

* indicates percentage not yet validated as per October’s board papers

Mr Brennan said: “Our most recent published waiting times are for August, when performance against the two-week breast symptomatic target was just under 24 per cent.

“However, we have worked hard to see every patient in this group as quickly as possible and all other patients waiting on the waiting list were seen within 20 days.

“We have a recovery plan in place and we aim to be achieving this target again by the end of the calendar year.”

The trust said it does not conduct harm reviews for patients on the breast two-week wait pathway.

Early cancer diagnosis can significantly improve prognosis, according to Cancer Research UK. However, the proportion of breast symptom patients seen within two weeks has fallen nationally every quarter since July 2018, according to NHS England statistics.

Providers saw 77.5 per cent of breast symptom patients within two weeks of referral from April to June. Overall, wait time results ranged from 2 to 100 per cent during that quarter, with 75 providers missing the target.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust made headlines in September when the Care Quality Commission raised its rating from “inadequate” to “requires improvement”.

However, the trust remains in “special measures” pending a special funding package.


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