THE number of people sent for urgent cancer investigations at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust is still below pre-pandemic levels, figures show, despite a rise across England as a whole.

Macmillan Cancer Support said while an increase in cancer referrals nationally is welcome, more people are waiting longer to be seen – and rising coronavirus rates “risk making this worse”.

NHS England data shows 1,884 people were seen by a specialist at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer in September – 2% fewer than in the same month last year, when 1,914 appointments were recorded.

However, it was a 6% rise on the 1,778 urgent referrals in August.

Across England, 200,000 urgent cancer referrals were made in September, 4,600 more than during the same month in 2019.

The Health Foundation think tank called the rise “a major milestone for the health service and testament to the huge efforts of NHS staff”.

Meanwhile, Macmillan’s director of policy, campaigns and influence, Steven McIntosh, said the latest figures show “encouraging improvements”, but warned that patients are generally waiting longer to see a specialist than they were last month.

“Rising coronavirus rates now risk making this worse, in the face of an already significant backlog,” he added.

“Tens of thousands of people are missing a cancer diagnosis because of Covid-19, and we know that delays to diagnosis and care can cause untold worry and affect chances of survival.”

In September, 86% of patients were checked for suspected cancer at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust within two weeks of an urgent referral, meaning the trust fell behind the NHS target of 93%.

The month before, 81% of referrals were seen within a fortnight.

Across England as a whole, 86% of people waited two weeks or less for an appointment following an urgent referral in September, down from 90% in the same month last year.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The number of people having cancer treatment is now back to pre-pandemic levels and more people came forward for checks in September.

“Local NHS services have put measures in place so that people can continue to be treated safely, including through Covid protected hubs, so our message to the public remains help us help you by coming forward