Published: 00:01, 21 September 2015
More than a quarter of suspected cancer sufferers in Medway had to wait longer than two weeks to be seen by specialists after being urgently referred by their GP.
More than 100 people were not seen for at least four weeks.
The data released by NHS England, makes Medway NHS Foundation Trust the worst performing trust in the country for cancer referrals with just 72.14% of patients seen within the target time frame.
Under NHS guidelines, trusts are expected to ensure at least 93% of patients are seen within 14 days after a referral from their GP due to the impact delays in diagnosis can have on the potential effectiveness of treatment.
Between April and June of this year, of the 3,895 suspected cancer sufferers, 1,085 were not seen by a specialist within the two-week period.
More than 110 people waited more than 28 days after being referred, with 210 waiting between 22 and 28 days, 429 waiting between 17 and 21 days, and 332 waiting 15 to 16 days.
This is a deterioration from the previous quarter, when the trust saw just 85.4% within the critical period. Yet just six months ago, 94.7% of patients were seen.
Jason Brady, a specialist medical negligence lawyer at national law firm Blackwater Law, said: “It is hugely concerning to see the significant drop in performance against this crucial target in just six months.
"From 94.7% of patients seen within 14 days, to just 72.14% will be of concern to patients and their families.
“Hospitals should take every step possible to meet this target to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment for some patients.
"Where these delays are unnecessary and where the patient’s health is impacted, these individuals may be entitled to sue to the hospital for clinical negligence.”
According to Cancer Research UK, where patients are diagnosed with cancer in its earliest stages, as many as 90% of patients can expect to live for five years or more, depending on the type of cancer.
This compares to 15% in some cases where the same type of cancer is diagnosed in its latter stages.
Emma Greenwood, head of policy at the charity, said: “England’s cancer survival already lags behind comparable countries and will only get worse if the target continues to be breached. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“These targets exist to ensure swift diagnosis of cancer and access to treatment. Patients want confidence that suspected cancer is taken seriously and is a priority for the NHS. These breaches have become a trend and they are worsening.”
People with suspected cancer face a waiting time lottery to see a specialist, depending on what type of cancer they are believed to have.
For those with suspected cancer affecting the lower part of the digestive system, just 28% were seen within the maximum two week wait, leaving 231 out of 321 people waiting at least 15 days to be seen by a specialist. After 28 days, 35 of those still hadn’t been seen.
In contrast, 98.5% of those with suspected gynaecological cancer and 96.1% of those with suspected lung cancer were seen within the target.
More than 1,500 people were referred with suspected skin cancer yet around one third of those waited more than two weeks to see a specialist.
And for those with breast cancer, 27 faced a wait of more than 28 days with just 437 out of 612 seen within two weeks.