Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS has called on the Welsh Labour Government to “stop sticking his head in the sand” as figures published today show that cancer treatment waiting times remain stubbornly high.

Just 53.3% of referrals started treatment within 62-days, significantly below the target of 75%. Not a single health board in Wales met this target.

Despite the bleak outlook this was 0.8 percentage points higher than the previous month, but 7.2 percentage points lower than September 2021 and is the second lowest figure since the current data series began.

Jane Dodds MS said: “Month after month we are seeing the Welsh Government miss this target, the continued decline in cancer waiting times is intolerable. Labour has to stop sticking his head in the sand and get on with resolving this crisis.

“Both cancer patients and staff are being failed by this Labour Government. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to the chances of survival.

“The Welsh Government needs to urgently get a grip of cancer care and treatment and publish its Cancer Action Plan.”

According to Welsh Government figures 325 patients started cancer treatment in the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in the past month, with 176 of these being within 62 days of first being suspected of having cancer. This equates to just 54.2 per cent of patients - well below the 75 per cent target.

Best performing health board was Betsi Cadwaladr where 61.6 per cent of people began treatment within 62 days with Cardiff and the Vale lagging behind with just 42.6 per cent hitting the target.

Macmillan Cancer Support added its voice to the concerns warning that Wales is continuing to fall far short of meeting cancer treatment waiting times targets ahead of the NHS facing winter and cost of living pressures.

While the charity welcomes an improvement in performance during September thanks to the efforts of hard-working NHS staff, it warns performance is at its second lowest point since current data collections began with almost 1 in 2 cancer patients in Wales to face delays in the lifesaving treatment they need.

It means that in one month alone, 774 people with cancer and their loved ones were left to face heart-breaking delays, and the anxiety that their condition could worsen while they wait for their treatment to begin.

The charity also highlights the significant variation that exists for different cancer types, with waiting times data for head and neck (29.3%) and gynaecological (32.8%) cancers showing less than a third of people being treated on time.

The warning comes at a time when front-line NHS staff are working to treat more cancer patients than ever before, with the numbers of people requiring treatment consistently being well above historic levels.

Macmillan warns that those hard-working staff desperately need support, especially as Wales is yet to enter a winter period that many involved in cancer care expect to be one of the most challenging in recent history.

Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales said: “This latest data clearly shows the serious challenges that Wales’ NHS workforce will face as we head into what is set to be a very difficult winter period indeed.

“NHS staff desperately need help, and we fully support recent calls for the Welsh Government to bring forward a long-awaited national workforce plan for health and social care.

“Existing NHS staff simply can’t continue to shoulder this burden alone. They need to know the cavalry is coming and is on the horizon.

“Make no mistake, there has been no let-up of pressure from the pandemic. If anything, that storm has only deepened with the cost of living crisis and the need to clear the treatment backlog – any improvement against such a backdrop is welcome and those at the front-line of cancer care should be commended.

“Only recently, Wales Health Minister highlighted how running the NHS in Wales without extra funding from the UK Government will be “hell on earth”, with an extra £207m needed to pay for energy costs alone this winter. That figure is 20% more than the £170m already pledged by Welsh Government to help clear NHS Wales’ treatment backlog.

“Absolutely no-one should doubt the sheer effort of will being shown by front-line NHS staff across Wales, but what those staff desperately need now is leadership from both the UK and Welsh Government.

“The right funding and the right cancer care system needs to be put in place to resolve the current crisis, and to support NHS staff to deliver lifesaving cancer treatment on time for everyone who needs it in Wales.

“Macmillan continues to do everything it can to help and we are here for anyone with cancer and their loved ones. For advice, information or a chat, you can call us free on 0808 808 0000 or visit macmillan.org.uk.”