CANCER waiting targets are being affected because some patients are not agreeing to their first hospital appointment, a leading doctor has said.

Professor Mark Middleton spoke after NHS leaders warned many waiting times had not improved despite concerns.

Cancer lead for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Professor Middleton, said some were not accepting their first consultation.

He said the trust was working with GPs to ensure patients are “aware they are on a suspected cancer pathway and understand the importance of accepting the two week referral appointment”.

In April the Oxford Mail reported managers were worried about a “dramatic” worsening of waits for specialities like cancer. An action plan was pledged by hospital managers but a new NHS report says: “Performance has deteriorated in spite of agreed recovery plans.”

Eynsham cancer campaigner Clive Stone – who won a 2007 battle to get a drug for his kidney cancer on the NHS – urged action.

The 66-year-old, pictured, said: “It is vital for cancer patients. You have only to wait a week and the tumour has grown.

“We must get early diagnosis, it is the only way we are going to tackle it.”

A national target demands at least 93 per cent of urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer are first assessed at hospital within two weeks.

This is being met for Oxfordshire patients, with 96.55 per cent, 1,565 people, seen in this time.

Professor Middleton was unavailable for comment on the impact of patients missing their appointment on this target.

Despite the trust hitting targets for those urgent referrals, those who do wait longer can contribute to a backlog further down the line.

Delays are still happening for further treatment later, with 94 per cent of patients treated within 31 days – against a target of 96 per cent.

Prof Middleton said the trust is focussing on these “late referrals” and problems with its own processes.

He said: “We have made some changes to our systems – for instance, improving the speed with which patients have diagnostic test and operating a seven day a week radiotherapy service.”

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