A new target introduced last autumn says people should be either diagnosed with the disease or have it ruled out within 28 days of an urgent referral by their GP, referral for breast symptoms or if they have been picked up through screening.
The aim is for 75% of these people to receive either a cancer diagnosis or the all-clear within a month, yet Cancer Research UK’s analysis shows this target has not yet been met since it was introduced. It has varied, but stood at 74% in February.
NHS trusts in England - out of 143 - hitting the cancer standard" data-source="">
Even if the target was met, 55,000 people every month would still be left waiting to find out whether they have the disease, according to Cancer Research UK.
Data also shows a large variation across England – with only 78 out of 143 hospital trusts meeting the 75% standard.
Cancer Research UK said people were being failed by the system, which lacks the capacity to deal with the numbers needing to be seen.
It also said that due to chronic shortages of specialists across the NHS, the target was also set too low.
The Government must take this opportunity to deliver for the millions of people affected by cancer
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK
Meeting this would see around 54,300 more people each month receiving a diagnosis or having cancer ruled out within 28 days, Cancer Research UK said.
Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive, said: “As a country we should not be willing to accept that over one in four people on an urgent referral are left waiting over a month to find out whether they have cancer. Nor should we stand for the variation that exists across the country.
“The Government must take this opportunity to deliver for the millions of people affected by cancer.
With a robust plan and sustained investment to build a cancer workforce fit for the future, we could diagnose people quicker and earlier
Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK
“With ambitious targets, a credible plan to reach them and clear accountability, we can get there.”
Early diagnosis of cancer allows treatment to start more quickly and is more likely to be successful.
Early diagnosis in England lags behind comparable countries.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “The Government has declared it will radically improve cancer care in England through its 10-year cancer plan, and crucial to this plan is ensuring that more people receive an all-important timely diagnosis.
“With a robust plan and sustained investment to build a cancer workforce fit for the future, we could diagnose people quicker and earlier, and save more lives.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to reducing waiting times for cancer patients which is why we are rolling out up to 160 community diagnostic centres across the country – with 81 already open and over 800,000 additional scans delivered.
“Our record investment in the NHS includes an extra £2 billion last year and £8 billion over the next three years to cut waiting times, including delivering an extra nine million checks, scans and operations by 2025 as part of plans to tackle the Covid backlog and deliver long term recovery and reform.”
A spokesperson from NHS England said: “Record numbers of people have received lifesaving cancer checks in the last year as we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic, and while it won’t happen overnight, the NHS is investing billions in extra diagnostic and treatment capacity – with staff working hard to roll out initiatives from lung scanning trucks to cancer symptom hotlines, so that patients are seen quickly and their cancer can be caught earlier.
“It is vital that people continue to come forward if they have any worrying signs or symptoms, as getting checked could save your life.”