Radiologist shortage blamed for missing cancer referral target at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

Grantham Hospital
Grantham Hospital

In the first three months of this year, the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust has missed a national target to see 93 per cent of suspected cancer patients within 14 days.

The Trust has instead seen 88 per cent of the 4,489 patients suspected to have cancer referred to them by GPs within a fortnight, five per cent below the target set out in NHS guidelines.

Pilgrim Hospital

Pilgrim Hospital

A further 537 people suspected to have cancer were not seen by the Trust within the two week expected time-frame.

The Trust cites an unprecendented increase in referrals, patient choice and shortage of radiologists for missing the targets expected.

The 14 day period exists due to the impact delays in diagnosis can have on the potential effectiveness of cancer treatment in combatting the disease.

Dominic Graham, a specialist medical negligence lawyer at national law firm Blackwater Law, said: “Identifying cancer at the earliest possible moment is vitally important. Early diagnosis and treatment greatly increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.

“The NHS targets reflect the importance of early diagnosis. It is hugely disappointing when these targets are repeatedly missed by NHS Trusts.”

In response a spokesperson for the Trust said: “United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust is fully committed to meeting all NHS constitutional standards and where this does not occur we take action to achieve standards. We have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of GP referrals for suspected cancer patients, with a 60% increase from April 2011 to April 2015.

“We are forecasting an increase in our performance against the standard for seeing 93% of suspected cancer patients within two weeks for May, and a further increase for June due to increased capacity, depending on patient choice. More than 50% of the number that didn’t meet the standard last quarter was due to patient choice.

“The increase in demand, together with a number of unfilled vacancies for radiologists has placed increased pressure on services. The shortage of radiologists is a national problem, and we are working hard to recruit radiologists from other countries. We have recently appointed six new consultant radiologists who will have started between February and September this year, helping us meet targets in the future.

“The Trust and Clinical Commissioning Groups are committed to providing the very best possible service for their patients and are working closely together to improve access to patient services. This includes a recent Lincolnshire health community cancer summit and launch of a breast care pathway redesign project which follows the patient from community through to survivorship”.

A spokesperson added that the Trust’s performance for May is expected to be in the region of 89 and 90 per cent, although the exact figures are still to be verified.