The number of cancer sufferers waiting at least two months for treatment after an urgent referral from their doctor is the highest on record, official figures show.
Almost one quarter of patients are being forced to wait longer for surgery or radiotherapy, with a steep decline in recent performance.
The data shows the worst Accident & Emergency (A&E) performance in 15 years, while the number of patients waiting at least six months for operations has risen by one third in a year.
It comes just days after health officials signalled that both the flagship four hour A&E target and an 18 week target for operations could be axed.
NHS leaders today said hospitals had been “stretched to breaking point” while charities warned that such goals could not be reached without a major expansion in staff numbers.
Hospitals are meant to start cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, with the target stating that 85 per cent of patients should start treatment within this time frame.
But figures for January show the worst performance on record, with just 76.2 per cent of cancer patients treated within two months, a drop from 81 per cent the month before.
Meanwhile, just 84.2 per cent of A&E patients seen in February were seen in four hours, the lowest proportion on record.