MORE than four in 10 cancer patients at Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust had been waiting longer than two months for treatment in February, figures show.

NHS data shows that at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, just 54.7 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in February.

It means 55 patients had waited longer than two months in February, and the trust fell far below the 85 per cent target introduced over a decade ago.

A year earlier, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit, 60 per cent of patients were being seen within the target time.

Dr Chris Brookes, chief medical officer at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group (NCA), which brings together the Salford Royal and Pennine Acute trusts, confirmed cancer care remained a priority.

He said: “Since the pandemic began we have continued to prioritise cancer care alongside urgent and emergency care and our staff continue to work hard to diagnose and treat patients as quickly as possible despite the impact the last 12 months has had on many different hospital services.”

“We would like to apologise to anyone who has experienced delays longer than expected to begin treatment and will be in contact with all of our patients who are waiting to advise them when their treatment will begin,” he added.

Across England, just 69.7 per cent of patients received cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral in February – the worst performance on record.

It means the NHS target has now not been met for nearly three years.

As NHS performance against the two-month target hit a record low nationally, Macmillan Cancer Support said the latest statistics reveal the enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on cancer services.

Sara Bainbridge, the charity's head of policy, said: “This data further illustrates the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment.

"It’s vital that cancer services continue to be prioritised and that those with cancer are not forgotten.”

Health workers have faced enormous pressures throughout the pandemic, which has pushed up hospital waiting times.

A group of MPs, charities and Royal Colleges are calling on the Government to provide urgent funding for cancer services to tackle the Covid-19 induced backlog and "save thousands of lives."

A declaration, signed by doctors and organisations including Cancer Research UK and the Institute of Cancer Policy, says: "We further urge the Government to recognise that to catch up with the cancer backlog, NHS services need the tools to “super-boost” capacity above pre-pandemic levels."

"This means revisiting aspects of the Budget and Spending Review to ring-fence urgent cancer investment."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government is committed to providing high quality cancer care, with cancer diagnosis and treatment remaining "a top priority" throughout the pandemic.

"More than 2.5 million urgent referrals were made within waiting time targets in the past year alone and for every coronavirus patient, two cancer patients received treatment," they added.