SCORES of patients in Wales once more waited beyond the target time for their cancer treatment to begin during the last three months of 2016.
More than 250 patients whose disease was diagnosed following a referral through the urgent suspected cancer pathway during October-December waited longer than 62 days to start their treatment.
A minimum 95 per cent of patients on this pathway should start treatment inside 62 days, but the last quarter rate for 2016 was 86.1 per cent across Wales.
And in some areas the rate was even lower. These include Gwent, where it was just 83.2 per cent, the second lowest of Wales’ six acute health boards.
In numbers terms, of the 1,813 patients across Wales referred through the urgent suspected cancer pathway, 1,561 started their target inside 62 days, and 252 did not.
In Gwent 278 out of 334 patients began their treatment within 62 days, and 56 did not.
Delays in diagnostics are a contributory factor to the difficulties in meeting the 62-day target, and this is particularly so in Gwent.
An Aneurin Bevan University Health Board report last month stated that “diagnostic waiting times have been flagged up as a significant contributor to pathway delays”.
Ongoing difficulties with ultrasound, MRI and CT scanning, and in histopathology are not only causing delays in carrying out tests, but also with reporting the results.
The cancer referrals most affected by these delays are cited in the report as head and neck, lung, and upper and lower gastro-intestinal.
The health board has put plans in place to try to improve the situation, both in testing and in reporting the findings.
Paradoxically, performance in Gwent - and across much of the rest of Wales - against the other cancer treatment target is significantly better.
Ninety-eight per cent of patients whose disease is not discovered as a result of a referral through the urgent suspected cancer pathway, for instance as a result of tests or treatment for another problem, should begin their treatment within 31 days.
During October-December, 98.1 per cent of such patients in Gwent (466 out of 475) began treatment inside 31 days.