THE proportion of suspected breast cancer patients seen on time at the trust in charge of Royal Oldham Hospital fell to a record low in December, new figures reveal.

NHS England data shows 647 patients with suspected breast cancer were referred by GPs for urgent investigations at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust in December.

But just 239 (37 per cent) were seen by a consultant within the recommended two-week window – the lowest figure for the month since records began in 2009.

The service, managed by North Manchester General for Pennine Acute Hospitals, was also well below the national NHS target for 93 per cent of all cancer patients to be seen within this timeframe. Across England, the proportion of patients seen within a fortnight fell from 90 per cent in December 2019 to just 71 per cent in December last year.

Breast Cancer Now said the latest figures were “deeply worrying” and encouraged women to contact their GP if worried. Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity, said: “Facing longer waits at an already incredibly difficult time can cause women huge anxiety, and the frightening consequence of these vital targets being missed is that more women could be living with undetected breast cancer due to delayed diagnoses."

NHS figures show just two-thirds of patients with breast cancer symptoms (when cancer was not initially suspected) were seen within two weeks in December – also a record low.

At Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, 148 such patients were referred by GPs in December, with 18 seen within two weeks. At just 12 per cent, this was the lowest monthly figure since records began in 2010.

An NHS spokeswoman said hospitals carried out more than two cancer procedures for every coronavirus patient they treated in 2020.

She added: “These figures show people should come forward if they have a worrying symptom because the NHS has, even at the highest point of the second wave of the pandemic, maintained capacity to carry out cancer checks and support people to start treatment.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said cancer diagnosis and treatment has remained a priority throughout the pandemic, with £150 million provided in October to allow the NHS to expand diagnostic capacity.