Cancer treatment and A&E waiting time targets are being missed by the NHS trust which runs Stevenage’s Lister Hospital after an ‘unprecedented’ rise in patients.

The East and North Herts NHS Trust says it is in ‘uncharted waters’ after failing to meet its targets this month.

Patients admitted to A&E are meant to be seen within four hours of admission and urgent cancer referrals are supposed to start treatment in less than 62 days.

But so far this month only 67.9 per cent of urgent cancer patients have been seen in this time frame – down from 85.9 per cent in 2013/2014.

Usually the increase in patients only happened in the winter months and tailed off during the spring and summer.

But in the past year admission rates have remained high throughout.

Last month there were 8,578 patients taken in to the Lister Hospital A&E compared to 7,829 in October 2013.

Last month the hospital said the increase in patients could be due to higher referrals from the NHS 111 telephone hotline or website.

The round-the-clock service, launched in October last year, aimed to ease pressures on A&E by advising people with non-life threatening ailments.

But it has been suggested people are being sent to A&E rather than to their local doctor as a precaution.

Other contributing factors are that more out of area patients were choosing to be treated at the Lister and ambulances were bringing more casualties to the department, said a spokesman.

However, it’s not clear why the Lister Hospital and QE2 in Welwyn Garden City were seeing a rise in patient referrals.

A spokesman said: “With regard to cancer treatment waiting times, our performance overall has continued to be amongst the better performing in the NHS.

“Like other hospitals groups, our performance around the 62-day urgent referral to treatment waiting time has dipped below the national 85 per cent standard.

“That dip in performance has been driven by a growing number of out-of-area referrals. Whilst this rising confidence in the care provided by our cancer care teams is good to see, it has been an unexpected development.

“We have had to respond by putting on additional clinics and treatment programmes. That takes a little while to organise, but is now in place.”