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Stephen Fry’s cancer diagnosis caused ‘spike in NHS demand’ and contributed to missed targets

PUBLISHED: 09:05 06 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:13 06 September 2018

Stephen Fry. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Stephen Fry. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2015

Stephen Fry’s prostate cancer diagnosis led to a surge in referrals to NHS services and contributed to missed waiting time targets, it has been claimed.

Matthew Swindells, national director for operations and information at NHS England, said there had been an “extraordinary spike in demand” in recent months.

This was “largely driven” by the announcement that the TV presenter and comic, who grew up in Norfolk, had undergone surgery to have his prostate removed early this year, Mr Swindells told the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester.

Mr Fry, 61, urged “men of a certain age” to get themselves tested after revealing his diagnosis in February.

MORE: Stephen Fry diagnosed with prostate cancer

Figures from April to June, published last month, show 80.8pc of patients with suspected cancer started treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred by a GP.

This is below the target of 85pc for the 18th consecutive quarter, and the worst quarterly performance against this target since records began.

Mr Swindells said the drop in performance against cancer targets was a “complex story”.

“When we look at the data, there’s been an extraordinary spike in demand,” he said.

MORE: Warm wishes for Stephen Fry after prostate cancer surgery

“I’m told largely driven by Stephen Fry getting prostate cancer and the media coverage of that.

“We have seen increases in referrals into a number of the cancer specialties, particularly urology, in the sort of 15pc level jump this year, which is unprecedented.”

Mr Swindells told the audience that while the numbers look “terrible”, the health service “treated more patients in the first quarter of this year within 62 days than it ever has before”.

“The NHS managed to respond to a 15pc jump in demand with about a 12pc jump in supply,” he said.

MORE: ‘Just overwhelmed by the kindness’ - Stephen Fry thanks well wishers after revealing cancer diagnosis

Mr Swindells said it was encouraging to see more people get tested for cancer, adding: “We now have as an NHS to be able to work out how we manage our demand and our capacity and get smarter.”

The 14-day wait target from GP referral for suspected cancer to the outpatient appointment was also missed for a whole quarter, for the first time since records began in 2008/09, the figures show.

Between April and June, 91.4pc of patients with suspected cancer urgently referred by a GP were seen within 14 days, below the target of 93pc.

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