THE NHS trust responsible for Oxfordshire’s largest hospitals is planning to hire more temporary agency staff in a bid to hit its cancer wait time targets.

The plans come after the latest monthly NHS figures revealed Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) to be one of the worst performing trusts in the country in relation to cancer treatment waiting times.

Trust chiefs have said they are now in negotiations with providers of temporary clinical staff so that more surgeries can take place at the Churchill Hospital.

The chronic shortage of clinical staff forced the trust to close two of its 10 operating theatres at the Churchill in Headington this year, meaning fewer cancer patients are receiving treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral.

The latest NHS figures show that just 70 per cent of patients received treatment within that timeframe in September, with just 21 out of 131 NHS trusts across the country performing worse.

The number of OUH patients receiving treatment within 62 days has fallen from 81.9 per cent in January, dropping as low as 68 per cent in August.

The NHS target is 85 per cent, which OUH last met in December 2017.

Negotiations are currently ongoing to secure more temporary staff members, however it had been hoped that the increase in capacity would be in place this month.

Rosalind Pearce, executive director at the county's health watchdog Healthwatch Oxfordshire said the trust’s performance relating to 62-day waits following urgent GP referrals was ‘disappointing’ calling on health chiefs to find a more permanent solution.

She added: “While we welcome the recruitment of temporary staff in the short term, the trust must come up with a long-term strategy to deal with its staffing problems.”

Since September the trust, which also runs the John Radcliffe Hospital, has re-opened one operating theatre.

Managers have blamed poor performance on a rise in the number of patients needing treatment as well as staffing shortages.

A spokesman for OUH said: “Often, these increases are down to raised public awareness of these particular kinds of cancers, which means more people visit their GPs to discuss their concerns and then get referred onto us.

“Nurse staffing shortages in both theatres and wards has also had an impact, however as mentioned above we are in discussions to increase temporary staffing with external providers.

“Lastly, we’re a specialist cancer centre.

“This means that a significant number of our patients have their first appointment at another location and then are referred to us, often with more complex illnesses.”