THOUSANDS of cancer patients are waiting too long for their diagnosis as hospitals fails to meet government guidelines.

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust has not met the government’s cancer waiting time target since it was introduced six months ago.

The target requires 75 per cent of people on “certain cancer-related referrals” to receive a diagnosis or the all-clear within 28 days.

But in January, the trust’s worst-performing month, just 58.3 per cent of 4,242 patients received a response within the desired period.

Cancer Research UK fears thousands of people will be “left in limbo” each month and has called on the government to invest more money into the NHS in order to meet targets.

The Argus: The Royal Sussex County HospitalThe Royal Sussex County Hospital

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Cancer waiting targets have been missed for years – the pandemic has only made this worse.

"Where you live affects how long you will have to wait – this is bringing stress and anxiety for those waiting."

The trust, which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, has seen signs of improvement.

In March, 69.9 per cent of 4,537 patients heard back within 28 days, up on 67.5 per cent in February.

Responding to the data, Ben Stevens, managing director for planned and cancer care for the trust, said: "The health and safety of our patients is always our top priority and communicating with them in a timely way is an important part of that.

"The challenges the ongoing pandemic created at the end of last year and at the start of this, especially with inpatients and staff absences, meant that along with the majority of NHS trusts' we were unable to meet certain national targets.

"As with most trusts, as the pandemic has eased we are working hard to reach targets set for us and our current performance is within the agreed trajectory."

The desired diagnosis rate has also not been met nationally, sitting at 73.1 per cent in March. But Cancer Research UK has criticised the target, saying it is “too low” owing to a “chronic” shortage in specialists.

The Argus: The national target is 75 per cent of patients diagnosed or given all-clear in 28 daysThe national target is 75 per cent of patients diagnosed or given all-clear in 28 days

It is urging the government to increase goal to 95 per cent as part of its upcoming 10-year cancer plan – and to provide the NHS with the necessary means to carry it out.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are improving outcomes for cancer patients across England, and our new 10-Year cancer plan will set out how we will lead Europe in cancer care.

“The government's record investment in the NHS aims to cut waiting times, including delivering an extra nine million checks, scans and operations by 2025 as part of plans to tackle the Covid backlog.”