Cancer waiting time targets

The cancer pathway in the NHS, from urgent GP referral through to beginning treatment, is spanned by eight operational standards. Here we look at how the NHS has performed against these standards in each year since 2009. 

These data were explored in a blog in January 2018 which considered the structure of the system of waiting time targets for cancer in the NHS. 

Updated in January 2018. 

Cancer targets: time to first consultant appointment

Two week wait from GP urgent referral to first consultant appointment

The two week wait from GP urgent referral to first consultant appointment target has been met in all but two months since 2009. Despite this, the chart indicates that overall performance against the target has decreased over time. Between 2010 and 2013, the average proportion of patients breaching the two-week target each month was 4.4%, but this increased to 5.8% between 2014 and 2017.

Cancer targets: time to first consultant appointment (breast symptoms)

Two week wait breast symptomatic (where cancer not initially suspected) from GP urgent referral to first consultant Appointment

Performance against this target has varied considerably from month to month. When the target was first introduced in January 2010, 11.8% of symptomatic breast patients waited longer than 14 days to see a specialist following urgent GP referral. Timely access to a consultant appointment subsequently improved, and from 2011 to 2013 the operational standard was consistently met. Since April 2014, the target has not been met in 20 out of 44 months.

Cancer targets: time from decision to treat to first treatment

One month wait from a decision to treat to a subsequent treatment for cancer (anti-cancer drug regimen)

One month wait from a decision to treat to a subsequent treatment for cancer (radiotherapy)

One month wait from a decision to treat to a subsequent treatment for cancer (surgery)

These three one month cancer waiting time targets have been met every month since their introduction (apart from January 2015 when the surgery target was not met). The proportion of patients waiting longer than 31 days for an anti-cancer drug regimen has been consistently low, fluctuating at less than 1% in all but three months since 2009. There has been a slight worsening in adherence to the radiotherapy and surgery waiting time targets over time. In November 2017, 4.5% of patients waited over one month for cancer surgery, compared to 2.7% in November 2011. The proportion of patients breaching the radiotherapy waiting time target increased from 1.2% to 2.5% in the same time period.

Cancer targets: Decision to treat to first treatment

One month wait from a decision to treat to a first treatment for cancer

This cancer waiting time target has consistently been met, although there has been a slight worsening of performance over time. Prior to 2014, generally between 1% and 2% of patients waited longer than 31 days to start cancer treatment following a decision to treat. Since 2015, over 2% of cancer patients have had to wait more than one month to start treatment.

Cancer targets: GP urgent referral to first treatment

Two month wait from GP urgent referral to a first treatment for cancer

Nationally, the proportion of patients waiting longer than two months to start cancer treatment following GP urgent referral has increased significantly over time. In November 2009, 13.8% of patients waited longer than two months to start treatment compared to 17.5% in November 2017. Since 2014, the cancer target has been missed for all but three months, and was last met in December 2015. In January 2017, over 20.3% of cancer patients waited longer than two months for treatment, representing 2,437 people.

Cancer targets: National screening service to first treatment

Two month wait from a national screening service to a first treatment for cancer

In October 2017, 10.7% of patients waited longer than 62 days to start cancer treatment following referral from a national screening programme. This is only the second time that the target has been breached since 2009. However, the overall level of performance against the operational standard has generally been decreasing. In 2012, an average of 4.8% of patients breached the wait time target each month compared to an average of 8.0% in 2016.

About this data

For more information about this data, please see the National Cancer Waiting Times Monitoring Data Set Overview

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