The failure of NHS England to meet the 62 day waiting time target for cancer patients is the worst on record, according to new monthly figures.
NHS England aims for 85% of patients to start their cancer treatment within 62 days following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer.
The latest NHS figures report that in January only 79.7% of patients began treatment within that time, the worst performance since the target was introduced in 2009.
The crucial target has now been missed annually for three years.
Combined with rising cancer rates, in part due to an ageing population, the “unacceptable” failure means that more people than ever are missing out on timely treatment.
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said that continually missing the target was “unacceptable”.
She highlighted that lack of progress in addressing shortages in staff responsible for diagnosis was one reason behind the failures.
“Cancer targets exist to ensure quick diagnosis and access to treatment, and provide a snapshot of how the NHS is performing for patients,” she said. “The Government and NHS England have committed to improving early diagnosis of cancer, including increasing investment, but it’s clear that this is yet to have an impact.
“These figures are a warning sign that we are not on track,” added Greenwood. “Urgent action is needed now to give our patients the care they deserve and the best chance of surviving.