CANCER patients in Airedale are waiting longer to start life-saving treatment, new figures show.

Statistics for Airedale NHS Foundation Trust reveal that, in the first three months of this year, 87.3 per cent of patients began treatment with a specialist within 62 days of a referral by their GP, which was down from 93.9 per cent in the same period of 2013.

But the figure is still above the government target, of 85 per cent.

Across England, just 84.4 per cent of patients hit the 62-day mark, which meant the NHS breached the target for the first time since the benchmark was introduced in 2009.

Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “David Cameron claimed his NHS re-organisation would improve cancer care. The reality is that he has in fact made it worse.

“Families across England are now facing longer, agonising waits for treatment. Experts are now warning that lives will be put at risk.”

Stacey Hunter, director of operations at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We continue to meet and exceed the national targets for patients with cancer starting treatment within 62 days of referral by a GP, which is good news.

“There will always be some fluctuation in the overall percentages due to differences in individual patients’ general health and their diagnosis.”

A Department of Health spokesman said an extra £750m had been pumped into early cancer treatment, but urged health chiefs to tackle “any dips in local performance”.