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The Government came under fire from Labour today over the breaching for the first time of the target period for those referred for urgent treatment after being diagnosed with suspected cancer.

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed raised the issue of the missed NHS target during Commons health questions, describing concern from charities as shocking .

NHS guidelines stipulate that 85% of patients should wait a maximum of 62 days to begin their first definitive treatment following an urgent referral for suspected cancer from their GP.

But NHS England figures released last month showed that this slipped to 84.4% during the period January to March, down from 85.8% during the last quarter.

Public Health minister Jane Ellison said local dips in performance should be addressed but praised clinicians who were diagnosing more cancers and catching them early .

Mr Reed said: Last month the NHS missed a target to begin cancer treatment within 62 days of patients being urgently referred, the first time ever. Cancer Research UK says this isn t just a missed target, patients are being failed.

We know that the key to ensuring more people survive cancer is to start treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis. So isn t it shocking that cancer charities including Macmillan and Cancer Research UK now say that cancer is being overlooked in this Prime Minister s National Health Service?

Ms Ellison responded: Well I think we all appreciate the wonderful work that s done by cancer charities like Macmillan and Cancer Research UK and indeed the department works very closely with these charities. We want outcomes for cancer patients in England to be amongst the best in Europe. As I said before, we know we re not there yet, but a great deal of effort and money is going in to getting there.

It s really important to realise the NHS is treating more cancer patients than ever. Since 2009 we ve seen that number rise by 15%, that s 1,000 more patients with suspected cancer referred to a specialist every day and that s a success of some of the early diagnosis and awareness raising activity.

Of course we want any local dips in performance to be addressed, but let s give credit where it s due to the clinicians who are diagnosing more cancers and catching the m early, because that is the key to treating them successfully.

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