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Cancer waiting times: Latest updates and analysis

by Sophia Lowes , Imogen Powell Brown | Analysis

11 July 2024

11 comments 11 comments

Woman waiting in hospital waiting room
Credit: toodtuphoto/Shutterstock.com


This article provides information on the latest performance against cancer waiting times targets. We have another piece explaining the recent changes to cancer waiting times in England.



Over the past few years, pressure on NHS cancer services has been mounting.

Cancer waiting times, which show whether the health system is meeting its targets for quickly diagnosing and treating cancer, help show us the extent of this pressure.

Testing for cancer, diagnosing it and starting treatment quickly saves people from stress and anxiety. Not only this, but cancer that’s diagnosed and treated at an early stage, when it isn’t too large and hasn’t spread, is more likely to be treated successfully. Prompt diagnosis and treatment underpin this.

December 2023 was the first month that the reported data on cancer waiting times is reflecting the new updated NHSE targets, as explained in our previous article

The standards have been streamlined into 3 key cancer waiting time standards with associated targets that  indicate how well cancer services are doing.  

Here are the latest results in England for May 2024:

The Faster Diagnosis Standard: Target Met

  • 76.4% of people were diagnosed, or had cancer ruled out, within 28 days of an urgent referral in May 2024. The target is 75% and this target has only been met twice since its introduction in October 2021.

The 62-day referral to treatment standard: Target Missed

  • Only 65.8% of people in England received their diagnosis and started their first treatment within 2 months (or 62 days) of an urgent referral* in May 2024. The target is 85% and has not been met since December 2015.

The 31-day decision to treat standard: Target Missed

  • 91.8% of people started treatment** within 31 days of doctors deciding a treatment plan in May 2024. The target is 96%

The above data are specific to England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own cancer waiting times targets. 

Despite the best efforts of NHS staff, since 2015 over 380,000 patients in England haven't been treated on time, and today’s figures continue this concerning trend. People affected by cancer and their families have faced unimaginable stress waiting to begin treatment.

This is a complex problem that won't be fixed overnight, but the new government has a huge opportunity to turn things around. The Health and Social Care Secretary has committed to meet cancer waiting time standards by the end of this parliamentary term, and a dedicated long-term cancer strategy is vital in delivering on this promise. Additional investment in equipment and staff is desperately needed, along with innovations and reforms to cancer services. Cancer Research UK looks forward to working with the new government to ensure that cancer patients receive the care they deserve.

- Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK

What does this mean for people affected by cancer?

It can be easy to forget that behind these numbers are real people going through an incredibly anxious time.

Quantifying the impact of missing targets and longer waits on patient outcomes is difficult as the research is limited.

The picture is different for different cancer types – some progress quicker than others – but we know the overall impact is likely to be negative. One study estimated that a 4-week delay to cancer surgery led to a 6-8% increased risk of dying.

People with more aggressive cancers are prioritised for early treatment where possible, but there can be good reasons why someone might experience a long wait for treatment.

For example, it can take longer to plan treatments intending to cure someone’s cancer, and sometimes patients need prehabilitation before starting treatment to give them the best chance of recovering well.

But increases in missed targets mean people who need potentially lifesaving cancer treatments are waiting, and worrying, for longer – and that is a big concern.

Despite delays, people shouldn’t put off coming forward if they are worried about symptoms. It’s always better to be on the waiting list than not at all, and if doctors are concerned, they will push things through as quickly as possible.

Getting back on track

Today’s cancer waiting times continue to represent unacceptable waits for cancer patients in England, despite the best efforts of NHS staff, a service under strain. Behind every one of these missed targets are patients – along with their friends, family and loved ones – who are facing unacceptably long and anxious waits to find out if they have cancer and when they can begin treatment. 

The last time all cancer wait targets were met in England was as far back as 2015 and our analysis shows that since then over 380,000 patients haven’t been treated on time. In this context, UK cancer survival lags behind similar countries and improvements in outcomes are at their slowest point in the last 40 years.  

There is a huge opportunity for the new Labour government to make last week’s election a real turning point for cancer, by delivering on their Health Mission commitment to bring cancer waiting times down, boost early diagnosis and improve cancer survival. 

To support these efforts, we want to see a renewed focus on cancer through a long-term strategy for England. A cancer strategy would serve as a vehicle for delivering the actions that we know are needed to speed up improvements in survival, offering an integrated approach to improving outcomes across cancer prevention, research and care.    

The strategy must set out the necessary, targeted investment needed for quality cancer care – the cancer workforce, key equipment and facilities, and IT and digital infrastructure. But we also need to see Government support the health system to innovate locally to improve the quality and efficiency of services, alongside reforms to ensure every pound is best spent in improving services and outcomes. 

Progress in efforts to tackle cancer is possible. Thanks to lifesaving research into cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, survival for all cancers combined in the UK has doubled since the early 1970s.  But with cancer cases on the rise and improvements in survival showing signs of slowing, cancer is still a defining health issue in the UK. It’s vital that the UK Government takes bold action to address these growing challenges.  

There are no easy fixes, but with political will and the right strategy, we can deliver long term solutions to the long-term problems facing cancer patients and help everyone lead longer, better lives free from the fear of cancer. 


 

* Urgent referrals include urgent referrals from a GP for cancer symptoms or breast symptoms, urgent referrals from a cancer screening programme, and referrals upgraded by a consultant. 

It’s important to note that the update to cancer waiting times standards in October 2023 means that more types of referral are now included in the 62-day standard. This means that that the 62-day standard now applies to more people than before. 

** This standard includes people starting their first treatment for cancer and also people starting any subsequent treatments. Before October 2023, the 31day standard included first treatments only.  

    Comments

  • Geoffrey Thornes
    26 March 2024

    Husband diagnosed with kidney cancer after a MRI for another reason.
    Dr referred for urgent review to urology after seeing the MRI he called for another reason.
    Was told by the urologist that a CT would be needed.
    This is what has happened next
    CT scan 20 Feb
    Results kidney cancer possibly Adrenal as primary and lung nodules so was referred to Endocrine.

    Was told all above on the 27 Feb by phone call.
    Also being referred for a lung biopsy which we have heard nothing yet.
    March saw Endocrine team was told bloods were needed and urine test all done and results were back on the 20 th March.

    21 March was told not Adrenal as the primary as previously thought it is kidney cancer still.
    Was told we would get a biopsy in two weeks time .
    I phoned up they said biopsy would be 24 April which is nearly 6/7 weeks after and well over the two week biopsy wait was told it would be.
    I am still chasing this up.
    Lung biopsy was told 4 week wait on the 27 Feb still no news.
    We have been passed from Kidney to Endcrine back to urology again.
    No treatment
    Not even seen an oncologist yet.
    Only had CT
    MRI
    Full blood
    Urine test
    One Doctor seen at one appointment
    Shocking really we was told on the the letter its stage 4 not even by a doctor.

  • Gary David Brown
    11 March 2024

    I had a fall at work of about 9 feet. Sustained Multiple fractures, my Wrist, Collar bone. etc,. Had C.T Scan followed by M.I.R while in A&E. 5 days later got phone call to say they had found a growth. At Adrenal Gland was told it was on it.(So assumed on outside ) Then on the 6th day since fall got another phone call to go in for what the caller said was for emergency M.I.R and Bloods..In mean time received letter saying growth was inside the Adrenal Gland.? So do not know if on outside or inside and not told size of it..Just told When results of last M.I.R. are in system i would be getting appointment to Endocrinology. That was 3 weeks ago..I have phoned Endocrinology twice once it got to over 2 weeks. Keep being told my results are not yet in the System. And in any case waiting list for Endocrine appt,. is one huge long waiting list. Today weirdly i was told my results are still not in system but then was told She would get my Consultant i have not met yet to phone me..Obviously i cannot work until fractures heal and plaster comes off. So i have too much time to worry and feel in Limbo as to what will,… is to happen next..

  • Alan Strudwick
    3 March 2024

    Fourteen years of incompetent government.

  • cuddle mcch
    8 November 2023

    too informative and thanks for sharing this much knowledge with us.

  • Mrs Birch
    7 November 2023

    Husband diagnosed with bladder cancer in August 2023. Awaiting a bladder removal. Aggressive cancer & waiting list is 4-5 months. Due according to the surgeon to strikes. I will be taking legal advice & action. NOT good enough.

  • Chris Allen
    22 September 2023

    I had a PSA test in January that scored 19. The follow up test two weeks later scored 21.
    I then had an MRI scan followed buy a CT scan & prostate gland biopsy.
    On 19th May a consultant Urologist at Leicester General Hospital told me I had stage three cancer with a high Gleeson score. He prescribed hormone treatment and referred me to Oncology.
    On the 22nd Aug I saw an Oncology consultant & was told I needed seven & half weeks of radiotherapy. Owing to the “backlog” treatment wouldn’t start for two & half months and if I hadn’t heard anything by then to “Give them a call”
    I was advised by Prostaid to “chase this up”
    Today I called Radiotherapy at Leicester Royal Infirmary and was told I’m number eighty in the queue and the list is being cleared at four per week. Unfortunately, it looks as if I have another five months to wait before any futher treatment will start.
    I’ll continue with hormone injections.

  • Vivien Hall
    16 September 2023

    My daughter was diagnosed with grade 4 bladder cancer on 14th July 2023. She has still not started treatment. Is this because they know she’s going to die so they see no urgency in treating her. They can’t operate and she only saw the oncologist 10 days ago. It’s disgraceful. She is very distressed at the lack of treatment and this can’t be doing her any good physically either.

  • Carol Price
    3 September 2023

    I am not happy I have not had chemo for 6mths it is very stressful

  • Jerry Golding
    22 July 2023

    From my own experience, I cannot fault the care and treatment I have received from Oxford University NHS Trust.
    I was referred by my GP for tests on 14/02/23, received a phone call from my local hospital, The Horton General in Banbury, on the 15th inviting me for a CT Scan on the 16th, on the 16th I received another phone call this time from the endoscopy unit offering me an appointment on the 18th,…. bad news! On the 1st March I was sat in front of my consultant at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford getting the really bad news. I started palliative chemotherapy and immunotherapy on 29th March and have just completed my sixth and final cycle of chemo with immuno to continue. Perhaps I am lucky (well only sort of, because the outcome is now per-ordained) because of where I live and OUHNHSTrust includes the Churchill Hospital, an acknowledged cancer care unit. Finally, a big shout out to ALL the wonderful and caring staff, from Professor Ramon De Melo, Dr. (Consultant) Paul Miller, all the Macmillan nurses, all the nurses and staff at the Horton GH in Banbury and particularly those at the Brodey Center who administer the chemo/immuno therapies.

  • Lynette Higgins
    14 July 2023

    I waited 10 weeks for results of my two yearly scan! Consultant said well if it was good news I would have rang you within a couple of weeks! I started palliative chemo 16 weeks after my scan! The stress this has caused for me and my family is unimaginable. My cancer is not curable but it is treatable. At the time of the scan my cancer spread was small but 16 weeks down the line who knows!

  • Dr Sheila Cartwright
    13 July 2023

    These figures showing the many missed targets are absolutely shocking but don’t come as a surprise. As a former experienced RadiationOncologist in the north of England, I kept making awareness of delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment, particularly radiotherapy, in the public domain 30 years ago. The current dreadful missed target figures are a direct result of long term significant underfunding of cancer services by many governments and are extremely worrying.

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read our comment policy.

    Comments

  • Geoffrey Thornes
    26 March 2024

    Husband diagnosed with kidney cancer after a MRI for another reason.
    Dr referred for urgent review to urology after seeing the MRI he called for another reason.
    Was told by the urologist that a CT would be needed.
    This is what has happened next
    CT scan 20 Feb
    Results kidney cancer possibly Adrenal as primary and lung nodules so was referred to Endocrine.

    Was told all above on the 27 Feb by phone call.
    Also being referred for a lung biopsy which we have heard nothing yet.
    March saw Endocrine team was told bloods were needed and urine test all done and results were back on the 20 th March.

    21 March was told not Adrenal as the primary as previously thought it is kidney cancer still.
    Was told we would get a biopsy in two weeks time .
    I phoned up they said biopsy would be 24 April which is nearly 6/7 weeks after and well over the two week biopsy wait was told it would be.
    I am still chasing this up.
    Lung biopsy was told 4 week wait on the 27 Feb still no news.
    We have been passed from Kidney to Endcrine back to urology again.
    No treatment
    Not even seen an oncologist yet.
    Only had CT
    MRI
    Full blood
    Urine test
    One Doctor seen at one appointment
    Shocking really we was told on the the letter its stage 4 not even by a doctor.

  • Gary David Brown
    11 March 2024

    I had a fall at work of about 9 feet. Sustained Multiple fractures, my Wrist, Collar bone. etc,. Had C.T Scan followed by M.I.R while in A&E. 5 days later got phone call to say they had found a growth. At Adrenal Gland was told it was on it.(So assumed on outside ) Then on the 6th day since fall got another phone call to go in for what the caller said was for emergency M.I.R and Bloods..In mean time received letter saying growth was inside the Adrenal Gland.? So do not know if on outside or inside and not told size of it..Just told When results of last M.I.R. are in system i would be getting appointment to Endocrinology. That was 3 weeks ago..I have phoned Endocrinology twice once it got to over 2 weeks. Keep being told my results are not yet in the System. And in any case waiting list for Endocrine appt,. is one huge long waiting list. Today weirdly i was told my results are still not in system but then was told She would get my Consultant i have not met yet to phone me..Obviously i cannot work until fractures heal and plaster comes off. So i have too much time to worry and feel in Limbo as to what will,… is to happen next..

  • Alan Strudwick
    3 March 2024

    Fourteen years of incompetent government.

  • cuddle mcch
    8 November 2023

    too informative and thanks for sharing this much knowledge with us.

  • Mrs Birch
    7 November 2023

    Husband diagnosed with bladder cancer in August 2023. Awaiting a bladder removal. Aggressive cancer & waiting list is 4-5 months. Due according to the surgeon to strikes. I will be taking legal advice & action. NOT good enough.

  • Chris Allen
    22 September 2023

    I had a PSA test in January that scored 19. The follow up test two weeks later scored 21.
    I then had an MRI scan followed buy a CT scan & prostate gland biopsy.
    On 19th May a consultant Urologist at Leicester General Hospital told me I had stage three cancer with a high Gleeson score. He prescribed hormone treatment and referred me to Oncology.
    On the 22nd Aug I saw an Oncology consultant & was told I needed seven & half weeks of radiotherapy. Owing to the “backlog” treatment wouldn’t start for two & half months and if I hadn’t heard anything by then to “Give them a call”
    I was advised by Prostaid to “chase this up”
    Today I called Radiotherapy at Leicester Royal Infirmary and was told I’m number eighty in the queue and the list is being cleared at four per week. Unfortunately, it looks as if I have another five months to wait before any futher treatment will start.
    I’ll continue with hormone injections.

  • Vivien Hall
    16 September 2023

    My daughter was diagnosed with grade 4 bladder cancer on 14th July 2023. She has still not started treatment. Is this because they know she’s going to die so they see no urgency in treating her. They can’t operate and she only saw the oncologist 10 days ago. It’s disgraceful. She is very distressed at the lack of treatment and this can’t be doing her any good physically either.

  • Carol Price
    3 September 2023

    I am not happy I have not had chemo for 6mths it is very stressful

  • Jerry Golding
    22 July 2023

    From my own experience, I cannot fault the care and treatment I have received from Oxford University NHS Trust.
    I was referred by my GP for tests on 14/02/23, received a phone call from my local hospital, The Horton General in Banbury, on the 15th inviting me for a CT Scan on the 16th, on the 16th I received another phone call this time from the endoscopy unit offering me an appointment on the 18th,…. bad news! On the 1st March I was sat in front of my consultant at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford getting the really bad news. I started palliative chemotherapy and immunotherapy on 29th March and have just completed my sixth and final cycle of chemo with immuno to continue. Perhaps I am lucky (well only sort of, because the outcome is now per-ordained) because of where I live and OUHNHSTrust includes the Churchill Hospital, an acknowledged cancer care unit. Finally, a big shout out to ALL the wonderful and caring staff, from Professor Ramon De Melo, Dr. (Consultant) Paul Miller, all the Macmillan nurses, all the nurses and staff at the Horton GH in Banbury and particularly those at the Brodey Center who administer the chemo/immuno therapies.

  • Lynette Higgins
    14 July 2023

    I waited 10 weeks for results of my two yearly scan! Consultant said well if it was good news I would have rang you within a couple of weeks! I started palliative chemo 16 weeks after my scan! The stress this has caused for me and my family is unimaginable. My cancer is not curable but it is treatable. At the time of the scan my cancer spread was small but 16 weeks down the line who knows!

  • Dr Sheila Cartwright
    13 July 2023

    These figures showing the many missed targets are absolutely shocking but don’t come as a surprise. As a former experienced RadiationOncologist in the north of England, I kept making awareness of delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment, particularly radiotherapy, in the public domain 30 years ago. The current dreadful missed target figures are a direct result of long term significant underfunding of cancer services by many governments and are extremely worrying.

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

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Read our comment policy.