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  • Health & Medicine

Government releases new cancer patients’ waiting time stats

by Henry Scowcroft | Analysis

19 August 2011

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How have waiting times for cancer patients changed?

This morning the Department Of Health released its Annual Report of waiting times for cancer patients, reporting back on the proportion of cancer patients that have been seen within the Government’s targets – one of which is the Two Week Wait, which is often the subject of intense political debate.

A raft of information was released, covering waiting times in different parts of England, and on a variety of different measures.

Importantly, it covers patients being referred urgently, but there are routes to diagnosis not included in these figures, such as people referred to non-urgent outpatient appointments and those diagnosed after being seen as an emergency.

Cancer Research UK’s Policy and Statistics teams have analysed what this latest set of information means for cancer patients – as early diagnosis and the speed that patients are seen by a specialist and, if necessary, treated, is of such importance to patients’ outcomes.

The good news for cancer patients is that all of the Government’s ‘operational standards’ (the new Government removed many health ‘targets’, but kept these measures, as they believe them to be ‘clinically justified’) continue to be met, and there is a slight increase in performance against a range of key measures from last year, some of which are below:

Measure Operational standard 2009-10 (% of patients meeting standard) 2010-11 (% of patients meeting standard)
All cancer two-week wait (patients urgently referred for suspected cancer by their GP seen by a specialist within 14 days of referral) 93% 94.9% 95.5%
Two week wait for symptomatic breast patients (patients urgently referred with an exhibited breast symptom seen by a specialist within 14 days) 93% 92% 94.8%
31 day (diagnosis to first treatment) wait for all cancers (patients receiving their first definitive treatment for cancer began that treatment within 31 days) 96% 98.2% 98.4%
62 day (urgent GP referral to first treatment) wait: all cancers (patients receiving first treatment for cancer following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer began treatment within 62 days of referral) 85% 86.2% 87%
31 day wait for second or subsequent treatment (patients waiting 31 days or less for a second or subsequent treatment, where the treatment modality was surgery) 94% 96.3% 97.1%
31 day wait for second or subsequent treatment (patients waiting 31 days or less for a second or subsequent treatment, where the treatment modality was an anti-cancer drug regimen) 98% 99.5% 99.6%

One of the key questions that our Policy team asked was whether the number of people being referred for suspected cancer was increasing.

This is an important question because it is crucial that anybody who shows signs and symptoms of cancer is seen by a specialist as quickly as possible to fully diagnose their condition. The table below shows that the number of patients being referred to a specialist for suspected cancer has generally increased over the last two years, which again is good news for cancer patients:

Year Quarter Total patients seen Number of patients seen within 14 days Number of patients seen after 14 days % of patients seen within 14 days
2009/10 1 221,364 208,265 13,099 94.10%
2009/10 2 229,101 216,177 12,924 94.40%
2009/10 3 228,272 218,174 10,098 95.60%
2009/10 4 225,472 215,627 9,845 95.60%
2010/11 1 246,430 235,223 11,207 95.50%
2010/11 2 265,214 251,835 13,379 95.00%
2010/11 3 244,348 233,473 10,875 95.50%
2010/11 4 249,054 239,206 9,848 96.00%

Total number of patients seen by a specialistPercentage of patients seen within 14 days

Whilst this information is generally good news for cancer patients, it only covers the period up until March 2011.

And we need to analyse statistics such as these for patients being diagnosed through other routes such as non-urgent outpatients, and continue to monitor whether the NHS reorganisation has any impact on the speed at which patients are seen and the number of people being referred for suspected cancer.

We will also keep working with GPs, to help them better understand the signs and symptoms of cancer.


Simon Kirkland is a Policy Adviser at Cancer Research UK