• Royal Free’s waiting list grew from 154 to 176 patients between last November and December
  • Trusts across north central London STP area struggling to meet waiting list target

Commissioners in north London are investigating an increase in waiting lists for cancer patients at a major teaching trust in the capital.

Royal Free London Foundation Trust saw a spike in its cancer waiting list in December, which the trust attributes to patients deferring treatment until after Christmas.

There were 154 cancer patients awaiting treatment in November. This rose to 176 in December and has since fallen to 153 in January.

Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group, the trust’s lead commissioner in the north central London sustainability and transformation partnership, confirmed there is an ongoing effort to find out why the list grew.

A Royal Free spokeswoman said the trust is “working closely with our local CCGs on a programme to improve our cancer performance”.

“This includes developing more efficient and consistent patient pathways and holding regular sessions with specialities that require additional support to resolve waiting time issues,” she added.

The north central London joint commissioning committee reported in its January papers that it was investigating the increase in backlog at the trust as part of its wider efforts to improve acute provider performance against cancer waiting list targets.

Trusts across the north central London STP have struggled to meet the 62-day wait performance target for some time. The aggregate performance across the area met the 85 per cent target for treating patients within 62 days of a GP referral for the first time in three years in December 2017.

However, performance has since slipped below the threshold, and the STP has pushed back the date by which it expects its providers to meet the target.

It has written to another major provider, University College London Hospitals FT, for “further assurance” on its management of the prostate pathway.

Delays at the trust’s urology service, specifically with prostate cancers, have been identified as a central challenge to the STP meeting the aggregate waiting list target.

UCLH’s board papers said unavoidable reasons caused most of the delays but “capacity and process delays contribute to 30-40 per cent and are a major focus of improvement”. These delay about four patients a month and are down to problems in administration “such as coordinating the availability of clinical teams,” the trust said.

The trust added that half of its patients on the 62-day wait pathway were referrals from other trusts.

A UCLH spokeswoman told HSJ the trust has plans in place to improve its internal processes as well as working with partners in north central London to “improve pathways where more than one provider care for a patient”.