FEWER than three in five people urgently referred to University Hospitals Dorset with suspected bowel cancer receive a diagnosis or an all-clear within four weeks, figures reveal.

NHS England figures show in June, just 279 out of 526 patients (53 per cent) with suspected cancer at University Hospitals Dorset, which covers hospitals in Bournemouth and Poole, had received their test results within 28 days of an urgent GP referral.

Of the patients who were forced to wait longer, 37 had to wait at least 62 days.

Proportionately, suspected bowel cancer patients were more likely to wait over four weeks than those being tested for breast, lung or skin cancers following an urgent referral to the trust.

Dr Alyson O’Donnell, UHD chief medical officer, said:“Over the last 18 months our hospitals have had to respond to the rise of Covid-19, with many of our clinicians changing the way they worked to support demand.

“Some patients were therefore not seen as quickly as we would like and when we were able to reintroduce diagnostic testing, we had to run at reduced list numbers to comply with infection control procedures. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of fast track cancer referrals to our hospitals which remains a challenge.

“However despite these challenges, the Care Quality Commission review into cancer services in Dorset highlighted we did well in maintaining services during the pandemic.

“We have also reduced the backlog of patients being invited for routine bowel cancer screening and are the first in the south west to achieve this. Since last August, the diagnostic wait standard has been at 90 per cent or above while since April this year, we have met the achievable standard of 95 per cent or above.

“We’re working hard to further improve access and waiting times and there is a very strong commitment from partners across Dorset to achieve the very best outcomes for local people. There are a number of initiatives in place that will help with this, for example, we’re using a mobile clinical unit to increase our capacity and are carrying out a thorough review of our workforce to ensure we can meet the demand of our service.”

From October, NHS trusts will be required to provide a result to 75 per cent of all suspected cancer patients within four weeks as part of the new faster diagnosis standard.

It is aimed at getting treatment started sooner to those who need it, and placing minds at rest more quickly for those who are all-clear.