NHS England to replace current cancer waiting time targets

NHS England to scrap some cancer waiting time targets

Around two thirds of NHS cancer waiting time targets are going to be replaced in England in a bid the health service says will improve outcomes.

NHS England is expected to confirm plans to scrap current targets for patients to see a specialist within two weeks if their GP suspects they have cancer.

Health bosses will put forward the ‘Faster Diagnosis Standard’. This will propose that urgently-referred patients should have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days.

The proposals would replace the nine existing cancer targets with just three.

According to a report by The Guardian, under the new NHS plans:

  • Patients who have been urgently referred, have symptoms of breast cancer, or have been picked up through screening, should have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days, also known as the Faster Diagnosis Standard
  • Patients who receive a cancer diagnosis will start treatment within nine weeks from the date of referral. This will be dubbed a 62-day referral to treatment standard
  • Cancer patients should receive their first treatment within a month of a decision to treat following diagnosis. The NHS calls this a 31-day decision to treatment standard.

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‘No expectation’

When a consultation on the proposals began in 2022, the NHS highlighted that the current two-week target set no expectation of when patients should receive test results or a confirmed diagnosis.

Cancer Research UK said the proposed new targets should lead to diagnosis improvements.

Speaking on the Today programme, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the changes will lead to better outcomes.

He said: ‘The consultation has been about working with consultants, clinical leaders, as to what drives the best outcomes, what is the way of getting the best survival rates.’

Dr Amir Khan, who spoke on Good Morning Britain this morning, said: ‘I don’t think they are a good idea.’

He added: ‘The way to improve cancer outcomes is to invest in more staff and more diagnostic equipment – not get rid of targets.’

Figures published by NHS England showed cancer wait times remain well below government targets.

In June, 261,006 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England. This was up 6% on 245,595 in May and 13% year-on-year from 231,868 in June 2022.

Some 80.5% of patients saw a specialist within two weeks. This was down from 80.8% in May. However, it falls below the target of 93%, which was last met in May 2020.

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