Cancer care in county hit hardest by doctors’ strikes

In an update from a regional NHS trust, members of Essex County Council (ECC) were shown data depicting how cancer care across the authority has been affected by recent industrial action.

The Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust (MSE), which coordinates medical provision in Basildon, Chelmsford, Southend and surrounding areas, provided updated statistics and figures relating to its performance during a meeting of ECC’s health overview and scrutiny committee on March 7.

Data in the report revealed that, during a year of strike action by doctors and other clinical staff, over 34,600 outpatient appointments and almost 4,700 inpatient day care surgeries booked with MSE provisions had been cancelled or postponed since April 2023.

During the latest week of strikes between February 24-28 this year, 790 outpatient appointments were rescheduled within this period alone.

Although areas including urology, gynaecology, trauma and orthopaedics were among those worst affected, 10 per cent of all cancelled appointments were related to cancer care and treatment.

Presenting the figures to the committee via video link, MSE’s interim managing director for women’s and children’s services Nicki Abbott said that, despite every effort being made to continue to reduce the number of people in the county waiting to start receiving cancer treatment and MSE’s cancer provision being subject to national-level scrutiny on a regular basis, industrial action and strikes have made this “really, really difficult”.

The update stated that “the trust is having limited successes in reducing its waiting lists during the busy winter period”, with there being a target of having given 74 per cent of patients an affirmative cancer diagnosis or results within 28 days of a consultation by the end of March this year.

Also by the end of March 2024 is an aim to have reduced the list of patients waiting over 62 days to begin receiving cancer treatment at MSE facilities to 475. In January, this figure stood at 747.

However, positive steps have been taken meaning that as of the end of February, this number had been dramatically reduced to 542, despite the challenges faced by MSE as a result of strike action.

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Emma Doyle

Local Democracy Reporter