More cancer patients are being diagnosed and treated more quickly at our hospitals despite the pressures caused by industrial action over recent months.
Improvements in our cancer performance persuaded NHS England to relax the extra regulatory oversight it imposed when some people waited too long for treatment.
For five months now our cancer teams successfully met the new national standards to ensure that most suspected cancer patients are diagnosed within four weeks.*
The challenge since the pandemic is the backlog of patients who need treatment. However the latest figures show that since April we reduced that by over a quarter.
We still have 317 patients waiting more than two months for treatment but plans are in place to halve the backlog by next March, supported by £430,000 allocated by NHS England through the oversight arrangements.
This welcome progress comes as we are poised to implement new AI technology to further improve diagnosis for suspected lung cancer patients. Through the North East London (NEL) Cancer Alliance we will share £1m in government funding over the next two years for software to speed up the evaluation of chest X-rays.
Automating routine assessments through AI will ensure timely identification of critical cases and allow radiologists to focus on complex cases, thus improving outcomes across the board. Clinicians hope to bring down the time it takes to get results to patients from three weeks to three days.
Stephen Ellis, consultant radiologist at St Bartholomew’s hospital, said: “This game-changing technology will help patients know sooner if they have lung cancer or it is ruled out.
“The AI will identify suspicious findings on chest X-rays immediately, flag them for hot reporting while the patient is still in the department, and enable us to expedite the appropriate management pathway.”
Demand for chest X-rays in north east London has almost doubled in the last five years, reflecting concern about the rising incidence of TB and acute pneumonia in our ageing local population as well as lung cancer. At the same time we and our local partners are impacted by a national shortage of radiologists and radiographers.
*The new faster diagnosis standard was introduced in October as a better measure of clinical care and patient experience. The latest published figures, the first official release under the new system, show we diagnosed more than 75% of suspected cancer referrals or gave the all-clear within four weeks. Provisional figures for November show this performance maintained for a fifth successive month.
In December, 8.7% of all cancer patients waited more than 62 days to start treatment (down from a peak of 12.8%). We undertake a clinical harm review for any patients breaching the waiting time standard.