Cancer patients at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW) are receiving some of the fastest access to treatment in the UK after hitting the national standard for treating patients within 62 days for 24 months in a row – one of only three Trusts to reach the target every month over the last two years.
Latest Trust data from July 2021 demonstrates that at least 85% of all patients referred by a GP for suspected cancer were treated promptly and within the required timeframe, meaning MTW has now reached the target for 24 consecutive months.
Hitting the target consistently comes against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, with MTW able to continue all cancer treatments to patients despite the challenges created by the virus with the Trust needing to act fast to switch many face to face appointments to video and telephone consultations, only bringing in patients to site who were urgently required.
The achievement also marks a huge turnaround in performance for MTW, who until August 2019 had not hit the target for five years and ranking as the worst performing trust.
But since then, the Trust has introduced a raft of changes to improve its cancer waiting times and respond to the rise in demand, including investing in more staff and upskilling more nurses to be able to deliver chemotherapy treatment.
MTW has also improved diagnostic equipment and facilities; introduced new treatment pathways; and implemented innovative best practice to streamline systems and processes.
Some of the key quality improvements that have made the most impact on speeding up patients’ access to treatment include introducing ‘straight to test’, where a patient referred is initially assessed by a specialist cancer nurse over the telephone to determine the best and most suitable test for their symptoms, rather than waiting to have an face-to-face outpatient appointment.
Dr Henry Taylor, Chief of Cancer Services said: “Hitting targets consistently is a fantastic achievement for the Trust, but most importantly it means we are seeing and treating many more of our patients quicker, ensuring people who have been diagnosed with cancer get timely access to the treatment and care they need.
“This achievement has been particularly challenging during the Covid-19 pandemic and has been a real team effort involving every team within the organisation, with a huge focus on putting the patient first. They’ve implemented a range of patient-centred and effective improvements that have enabled us to make high quality and sustainable changes to the way we deliver care and treatment.
“As a Trust, we’ll now be looking to build on this work and sustain our service so both existing and new patients can continue to access world-leading, high quality cancer care and treatment.”
Dr Ritchie Chalmers, Consultant Breast and Oncoplastic Surgeon and MTW Chief of Service for Diagnostics & Clinical Support Services, added: “We are very proud of our progress in the last couple of years – in September 2018, we treated 58% of patients within 62 days, so to now hit over 85% for 24 consecutive months is a testament to the dedication and sheer hard work of every team from doctors to dieticians to porters and physiotherapists.
“The commitment from everybody – fantastic clinicians, outstanding administrative support teams, and supportive senior management – is dedicated to delivering the best possible care to our patients.”
MTW is the fifth largest cancer centre in the country and provides specialist cancer services to around 1.8m people across Kent, Medway and East Sussex. The Trust treats people from two sites based at Maidstone Hospital and Kent and Canterbury Hospital, and also runs outpatient clinics across multiple locations in the county.