PERFORMANCE: A report for Greater Manchester commissioners has found “little sustained improvement” in the area’s poor cancer waiting times, despite the intervention in February of the government’s cancer tsar.

Consultant Helen Bellairs reported that, in the months following national cancer director Sir Mike Richard’s recommendations to the city, local energy had focussed on allocating blame for waiting target breaches, to little benefit of patients.

Sir Mike’s original report had proposed a risk sharing deal to address the problems that cancer specialist The Christie Foundation Trust – which mainly treats patients referred on from the region’s other acute providers – has had in meeting the 62 day cancer treatment waiting target.

The foundation had complained it was receiving patients too late for it to treat the required 85 per cent within the timeframe. Sir Mike’s report proposed a risk sharing deal, with providers who sent patients to the Christie more than 38 days after first referral taking responsibility for any consequent breach.

But Ms Bellairs’ report said recent analysis showed “little overall sustained improvement since the report by Mike Richards in February”.

She wrote: “So far local energy has largely focussed on the part of the Richards report that considers the allocation of the breaches against the standard.

“However, changing the allocation of blame does not alter the service patients are getting. The real solution needs to address the fact that patients do not get to the Christie (and other tertiary providers) within a timeframe that allows them to treat the patient within the standard.”

She added that, while no trust denied they were part of the Greater Manchester and Cheshire Cancer Network, “at no time did I get the impression that they saw themselves as the network”.

The network board seemed to have “less influence on providers than is apparent in other networks”, and tensions between trusts also hindered cooperative working, she suggested.

Ms Bellairs’ recommendations, which were accepted by NHS Greater Manchester on 8 September, include:  

  • a review of the construction and function of the cancer network;
  • during this review the network be chaired by the chief executive of NHS Greater Manchester;
  • providers should be required to report not just their performance against the 62 day standard, but also their onward referral performance and the network’s performance;
  • commissioners should ensure providers face both penalties for late onward referral, and rewards for meeting the 38 day limit.

A Christie spokeswoman said: ““When patients are referred to us they receive prompt and timely treatment.  It is vital that cancer patients receive treatment as quickly as possible and we will always support developments to ensure this happens.

“We therefore welcome the recommendations in the recent report which will mean that patients are sent to us sooner.”