PATIENTS in Carlisle and Whitehaven are facing long waits in A&E, for cancer services and other treatment due to "significant" pressures" at the area's hospitals.

Both the Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital are struggling to meet demand, as are specialist cancer services in Newcastle Hospitals.

Concerns about these waits were raised at a meeting of North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in Carlisle.

The governing body heard that the number of patients seen by the two hospitals' A&E departments within the four-hour target, was just 85.2 per cent in April.

Locally the target is 90 per cent and nationally it stands at 95 per cent.

Peter Rooney, CCG chief operating officer, said that after a "relatively positive" winter period, urgent care services in Carlisle and Whitehaven are now under significant pressure.

"The A&E performance has been quite challenged, particularly over the past six or seven weeks," he said.

"There is lots of partnership working going on around the urgent care system."

The CCG also heard about cancer delays and long waits between GP referrals and patients receiving treatment - resulting in extra staff being brought in and mobile scanners.

For example, the proportion of patients with breast cancer symptoms seen within 14 days fell well short, at just 70.7 per cent in March. This is compared to a target of 93 per cent.

The number of cancer patients missing the 62-day target is also high.

A report to the governing body meeting, held at Botcherby Community Centre on Wednesday, said: "The cancer pathways for lung, upper and lower GI (gastrointestinal) and urology are the main areas of concern.

"The primary reason for the breaches is a lack of capacity, both at NCUH (North Cumbria University Hospitals), and at Newcastle for

tertiary patients.

"Consultant capacity and diagnostic capacity are both issues locally.

"Recovery plans are in place. Additional nurse-led capacity has been introduced where appropriate and increased MRI and CT capacity has been made available via mobile scanners.

"Urology has been a particular challenge at NCUH and two additional consultants are now available to undertake cancer work."

Anna Stabler, executive director of nursing and quality, said: "There are pressures within cancer services.

"We are monitoring this and discussing this all the time. The same goes for referral to treatment times.

"The pressures continue but there are robust plans in place to hopefully support improvement."

The governing body also heard that the number of complex cancer cases is currently high and patient-initiated cancellations are higher than in other trusts, affecting the numbers being seen within NHS targets.

Mr Rooney did praise the North West Ambulance Service for its response times, which are higher than average in north Cumbria. However neither the Carlisle or Whitehaven A&E departments met the 30-minute ambulance handover target in March.