MORE than a third of patients are waiting more than six weeks for vital cancer tests that could save their lives, figures show.

According to new date released by NHS England, 38 per cent of people waiting for a colonoscopy appointment and flexible sigmoidoscopy at Southend Hospital in February this year had to wait more than six weeks - the national target. The tests are used to diagnose bowel cancer.

Southend Hospital - which is set to become the special cancer centre for the region in an overhaul of NHS services - has blamed the delay some patients have experienced on staffing issues.

Gina Quantrill, head of patient access at Southend Hospital, said: “All patients referred to the Trust on Cancer Two Week Wait pathways are seen within two weeks for their scope procedure.

“We endeavour to see all other patients within six weeks but have experienced some staffing and capacity issues over the past few months resulting in some patients waiting for up to 12 weeks for their procedure.

“In addition to this we have seen a surge in the number of patients referred to the Endoscopy Team and this has also contributed to the rise in waiting times.

“The hospital has been providing additional diagnostic sessions to address this and will continue to do so. We are also working with our Clinical Commissioning Group colleagues to look at how patient pathways can be streamlined to maximise capacity and ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible following referral.”

At Basildon Hospital, no patients had to wait more than six weeks.

A spokesman for the Hospital said: “In the face of rising demand we endeavour to keep waiting lists to a minimum across all specialities. “

Increasing demand for tests and a lack of capacity in hospitals is the root cause of long waiting times for appointments, according to Bowel Cancer UK.

Asha Kaur, head of policy at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “These figures are very disappointing. It is unacceptable that patients are being made to wait more than six weeks for endoscopy tests.

“How soon someone is seen determines how early a diagnosis can be made.

“This substantial increase in demand is creating unprecedented pressure on hospitals that do not have adequate capacity to meet this demand.”