Hartlepool and Stockton hospital trust ‘struggling’ with influx of cancer patient referrals

The University Hospital of Hartlepool
The University Hospital of Hartlepool

A HOSPITAL trust has seen a “tremendous upsurge” in referrals of cancer patients.

The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust saw a 78 per cent rise in referrals to its lung cancer service in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2012.

The two-year comparison figures show there was a 31 per cent increase in referrals to its breast service, as well as a 45 per cent rise in people being referred for cancer screening or treatment to its urology unit and a 48 per cent rise in cancer referrals in the gastroenterology department.

But trust chiefs say patient choice and cancer awareness campaigns could be a factor in increased numbers of referral rates across tumour groups .

A report to a meeting of the trust’s board of directors, held at the University Hospital of Hartlepool on Thursday, says this February the trust performed well against all but two of the 14, 31 and 62-day cancer pathway standards.

It underachieved against the 62-day urgent-referral-to-treatment standard of 85 per cent, reporting 84.2 per cent, and failing to hit the 90 per cent standard of 62-day screening-to-treatment standard, at 86 per cent.

But the report adds that provisional data for January to March indicates all standards have been achieved.

The report adds: “The trust continues to experience significant pressures in the delivery of cancer standards, exacerbated by the uptake of patient choice, causing delay in the diagnosis and treatment stages within the pathway.”

Julie Gillon, the trust’s chief operating officer/deputy chief executive told the meeting: “We are struggling with our cancer standards.

“There is the perspective of patient choice, but also the number of referrals we are seeing coming through the doors.

“In quarter 4 we have had all the Be Clear On Cancer campaigns.”

She said the trust had achieved most of its cancer standards but “we will struggle to continue to manage capacity to ensure patients are seen in a timely fashion”.

Trust chairman Paul Garvin told the meeting: “We have had a tremendous upsurge in cancer referrals and that’s putting pressure on the system, and the fact we are struggling to keep our head above water.

“But neverltheess we have still been meeting the targets at the end of quarter four.”