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NHS set to scrap most cancer waiting time targets ‘to speed up diagnosis’

NHS set to scrap most cancer waiting time targets ‘to speed up diagnosis’

Cancer treatment targets will be scrapped in the NHS to try and 'speed up diagnosis'.

Sun Newspaper

It comes after years of failures to meet targets, and mounting pressure on the NHS to improve cancer services.

One charity said it was “deeply worried” about the move, while others say it could lead to improvements in diagnosis.

The NHS is supposed to meet a certain threshold for each target. But many of these targets have not been met for some time. For example, at least 85 per cent of patients should start a first treatment for cancer within two months (62 days) of an urgent GP referral when cancer has been suspected.

Only 59.2 per cent of patients in England who had their first cancer treatment in June after an urgent GP referral had waited less than the target of two months.

The target of 85 per cent has not been met since 2015.

Some 91.3 per cent of people started treatment within 31 days of doctors deciding a treatment plan in June 2023, against the target of 96 per cent. It was the sixth worst performance on record.

Another target to be scrapped, is that patients see a specialist within two weeks if their GP suspects they have cancer.

A new “Faster Diagnosis Standard” proposes that patients who have been urgently referred should have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days.

The NHS said that the plan would help diagnose more cancers earlier and save more lives, because the current two-week wait target sets no expectation of when patients should hear if they do, or do not, have cancer.

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

But Naser Turabi, Cancer Research UK's director of evidence and implementation, said of the figures last week: "Despite the best efforts of NHS staff, it's incredibly worrying that cancer waiting times in England are once again amongst the worst on record."

Oncologist Pat Price, the head of the Radiotherapy UK charity, told the BBC she was “deeply worried” because “the clear and simple truth is that we are not investing enough in cancer treatment capacity”.

Professor Pat Price, visiting oncology professor at Imperial College London and co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer Campaign, criticised the Government’s plans to scrap cancer targets for patients to see a specialist within two weeks.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she described it as “fiddling around with targets” in the middle of a crisis.

Under the new proposals, the Faster Diagnosis Standard will have an “initial performance threshold of 75 per cent”, meaning that three-quarters of patients should have a diagnosis within a month.

When the consultation was launched, Cancer Research said that it would like to see a 95 per cent target in the future.

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, would not be drawn into claims that two-thirds of cancer targets will be changed.

Asked about the newspaper reports by BBC Breakfast, he said: “There is a consultation at the moment, the story relates to a leak, and ministers don’t comment on leaks.”

He had earlier said: “This is something led by clinicians working in cancer.

“It is not something being imposed by the Government, it is in response to requests by those working in the cancer field and any changes, if they are announced in the coming days, will be in consultation with the leading cancer charities.”

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