ONE in five cancer patients in Reading had to wait more than two months to start treatment in August, figures reveal.

Cancer Research says too many patients wait too long after an urgent GP referral, and that there “just aren’t enough people” in the NHS to carry out tests.

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NHS England figures show that only 80% of NHS Berkshire West CCG patients received their first cancer treatment within 62 days of a GP urgent referral in August. This is up from 76% in August last year.

The NHS has a target for 85% of all referrals to start treatment within two months.

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Matt Case, Cancer Research UK’s policy manager, said: “Too many patients are waiting too long after an urgent GP referral to get a diagnosis and start treatment. It’s already a stressful time for them, and delays can make that even worse.

“Diagnosing more cancers at an early stage is impossible without more people being referred for tests. But despite NHS staff working harder than ever, there just aren’t enough people to deliver the number of tests needed.

“These figures give us a monthly reminder of how much pressure the NHS is under. To have any chance of meeting its ambitions for early diagnosis, the Government must invest to make sure we have enough key cancer staff now and in the future.”

The figures also show that there is now a record number of patients missing out on the two-week target from referral to a consultant appointment across the country.

In Reading, 88% of patients had their first consultant appointment within two weeks despite a 93% target.

Meanwhile, 93% had their cancer-related surgery within a month, against a target of 94%.

Across England, the proportion of those waiting within two weeks for their first consultant appointment dropped to a record low of 89% in August, compared to 92% last year.

Back in October 2009, the earliest period available, 95% of patients attended their first consultation appointment within two weeks.

Moira Fraser-Pearce, director of policy, campaigns and influence at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is unacceptable that record numbers of patients are now missing out on the two-week referral target.

“This demonstrates how critical it is that the Government addresses the NHS workforce crisis as an urgent priority – targets will only continue to be breached if the Government doesn’t take action to grow and sustain the numbers of NHS staff."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman pointed out that the number of patients being urgently referred for suspected cancer has more than doubled in 2018-19 compared to 2009-10, as well as “tens of thousands” of additional doctors and nurses in the NHS who are “all working tirelessly to deliver excellent, safe care”.

He added: "Our Interim NHS People Plan has set out immediate actions we will take to reduce vacancies and secure the staff we need for the future - including addressing pensions tax concerns, increasing university clinical placements by over 5,000 more and bolstering the workforce through greater international recruitment."