The Government’s Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaigns have been blamed for missed cancer targets at one NHS hospital trust in the Midlands.
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said missed targets for two-week-wait referrals and 62-day waits for treatment were partly caused by surges in demand, including a 20% rise in breast cancer referrals, related to national awareness campaigns around blood in urine, bowel cancer and breast cancer.
Minutes from the trust’s July board meeting stated: ‘There is a significant rise in [two-week-wait referrals] including the 20% increase in breast referrals. Analysis is taking place as to the reason for this surge in demand however first indications are that this is linked to a health awareness campaign.’
In June, less than 82% of patients were treated within 62 days of urgent referral from their GP – against a target of 85% – while 89% of patients were seen within two weeks of urgent referral for breast cancer, compared with the target of 93%.
According to a recent report in the Redditch Standard, the trust’s chief operating officer Stewart Messer told the board he had asked the Department of Health for ‘more warning about when campaigns were being run rather than being informed at the “eleventh hour” so they could better prepare and match their capacity to meet demand’.
The first national ‘blood-in-pee’ campaign was run in October and November last year and is due to be repeated over the same period this autumn, while the national breast cancer awareness campaign for women over 70 ran from February to March this year, and the three-week cough lung cancer campaign from March to April.
The latest local results come after national figures for January to March revealed NHS cancer waiting targets had been breached for the first time ever.
Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said: ‘We work closely with NHS England and the Department of Health to make sure the NHS is given as much notice as possible of Be Clear on Cancer campaigns.
‘For example we announced in May, via a joint letter to Trust Chief Executives, Medical Directors, SCN Associate Directors and CCG Clinical Leads, that the Be Clear on Cancer kidney and bladder cancer campaign would run nationally again in the autumn. Information has also been provided in NHS bulletins.’