Macmillan Cancer Support welcomed the figures, but said they rounded off a “devastating year of disruption” which had led to thousands of people undiagnosed or facing delayed treatment.
NHS England data shows 1,986 people were seen by a specialist at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust following an urgent GP referral in March – over a quarter (26%) more than in February, when there were 1,573.
The month also saw the highest number of appointments recorded since the start of the pandemic in March last year.
However, waiting times continue to be a struggle at the hospital trust.
Only 83% of patients had their appointment within two weeks of referral compared to an NHS-wide target of 95%.
And just 61% of cancer patients started treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral in March this year – short of the 85% target introduced by the NHS a decade ago.
Although an improvement on 57% in February, it was down from 67% in March last year.
Across England, 232,000 people were seen for urgent cancer investigations after being referred by their GP in March, more than in any of the previous 12 months.
Cancer Research UK’s senior intelligence manager, Jon Shelton, said it was not enough getting back to normal levels, adding further investment was required to diagnosis thousands of people who had not come forward during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Macmillan’s head of policy, Sara Bainbridge, said a long-term workforce plan was now needed to tackle the treatment backlog and improve cancer care.
“These results show signs of improvement, but today’s data rounds off a devastating year of disruption, which has seen tens of thousands of people missing a diagnosis or experiencing changed and delayed treatment, while their chances of survival potentially worsen.
“As Covid pressures lift, the Government can no longer put off fixing the chronic undersupply of cancer staffing and resources.”
Nationally, patients with suspected skin and breast cancers were among the most referred by GPs. At Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Trust there were 414 appointments for suspected skin cancer and 144 for suspected breast cancer in March.
The NHS said it was “welcome news” that more people were seen as a result of GP referrals in March.
Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for the NHS, said: “But we want to go further and faster on this recovery, which is why we’re investing £160 million on ways to tackle waiting lists and putting in place practical plans to speed up non-urgent operations.”