NEARLY a quarter of Poole Hospital cancer patients had been waiting longer than two months for treatment in October, new figures reveal.

Just 77 per cent started treatment within the target 62 days of an urgent GP referral, below the 85 per cent target introduced a decade ago.

This means 20 people waited longer than two months.

The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals met the 85 per cent target but there were still 18 people who had to wait longer than the target times.

Now health experts have warned that the new government's attention-grabbing policy pledges will not save a health service in critical condition.

Nationally the 85 per cent target has not been achieved since December 2015.

At the latest count, only 77 per cent of NHS patients in England received cancer treatment within two months.

Hospitals throughout the country are now missing five of eight key targets for cancer waiting times.

Officials blame mounting delays on shortages of staff and equipment, as well as beds blocked by patients needing social care.

Combined, these pressures have left the NHS braced for its worst winter on record.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, called the figures "shocking".

She said: "Cancer waiting times are being missed year on year, and we’re still not seeing the urgent action needed to fix this.

"Although staff are working harder than ever, there just aren’t enough to diagnose and treat cancer effectively.

"More people than ever are left waiting too long after an urgent GP referral to get a diagnosis and start treatment – delays which will make an already incredibly anxious and worrying time even worse."

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said patients are "suffering" following years of austerity in health funding.

Welcoming the Conservative Party's promise of an extra £18 billion for the NHS, she added: "For the sake of our patients, these promises must be turned into actions, and now is the time to act."

However, Dr Rebecca Fisher, a GP and senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, warned that the funding boost "falls short" of requirements.

The NHS needs an increase of £20 billion by 2023-24 "just to maintain standards of care", she added.

An NHS spokesman said: that "NHS teams across the country are providing a record-breaking level of care", but warned that norovirus and flu are impacting local services more heavily than last year.

"That's why it's more important than ever for the public to help NHS staff by getting flu jabs, following advice on the NHS website if they have norovirus, using the NHS 111 phone or online service for advice on urgent medical needs, and consulting their local pharmacist for advice on minor ailments," he added.