WEST Cumbrian 'Marathon Man’ Gary McKee has teamed up with parliamentary candidate Josh MacAlister to call for the reintroduction of a 'vital' cancer support network in west Cumbria.

The call follows the release of data showing that waiting times for cancer treatment in north and west Cumbria are among the worst in the country, with almost half of all cancer patients here waiting more than two months from referral to treatment.

The pair are calling on the government to provide urgent support to the NHS in Cumbria to bring down waiting times for treatment.

In addition, they’re asking North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust to reinstate the Macmillan Community Cancer Nursing service, which helped cancer patients navigate the system and access a range of support.

The service pilot was scrapped last year, but an evaluation obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Mr MacAlister, Labour parliamentary candidate for Whitehaven and Workington, found it to be valued by patients.

The candidate says a business case for a replacement service promised last autumn is yet to materialise.

Mr MacAlister said: “The Tories have brought our NHS to its knees and the latest figures show the human impact of that. Waiting times are the highest on record across the country and the fault for that lies at the door of 10 Downing Street.

“Locally, we must ask the tough questions about why and how almost half of all cancer patients are waiting months to begin treatment - some of the worst performance in England. At the same time, a vital support service for cancer patients was scrapped and not replaced. It’s not good enough and patients deserve better.”

Mr McKee added: “I heard from so many people who benefited from the Macmillan cancer support who were devastated when the service was scrapped.

"We need it back here serving people living with cancer in West Cumbria. That’s why I’m working with Josh to improve cancer services for local people and why I’ll keep fundraising for Macmillan and the brilliant work they do.”

NCIC said it is important to note that community support provided to cancer patients has no influence at all over NHS national cancer targets.

A spokesman for the North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust said: “The Macmillan community support pilot came to an end last year. We were very pleased that the feedback from patients was excellent.

"However, the pilot showed us that the level of expertise needed for the service was not as high as we had anticipated, and that is one of the reasons that we had considerable staffing challenges when we came to the end of the pilot.

"We are  considering next steps and in the meantime we operate the Macmillan Hub based at the Cumberland Infirmary and Macmillan support is available across our region  for anyone affected by cancer who needs advice and support.

"Any support provided to cancer patients in the community is not directly connected to the acute cancer care provided in our hospitals . We know that our cancer performance standards need to improve and that is where we have been focusing our resources.

"We have invested in a number of new posts in our hospital cancer services to make sure we have the right staffing levels to be more effective in managing the care of our cancer patients.

"While we know we still have work to do, our performance is improving.

"Due to the focus on our acute hospital services we haven’t progressed the business plan for our community cancer support services as yet. However this will be a priority in the coming months and we will be happy update Mr McAlister as this work progresses.

"In the meantime we operate the Macmillan Hub based at the Cumberland Infirmary and Macmillan support is available across our region for anyone affected by cancer who needs advice and support."