Cancer waiting times after urgent referral

The NHS Cancer Plan introduced in 2000 stated that there should be a maximum two-week wait for a first outpatient appointment for patients referred urgently by a GP with suspected cancer. This indicator looks at the percentage of people who were seen within two weeks of being referred.

How have waiting times after an urgent referral changed?

The percentage of people being seen within two weeks remained largely consistent, between 95% and 96% from Q3 2009/10 onwards. However, in Q3 2013/14, it decreased, reaching an all-time low of 93.5% in Q1 2014/15. It has since increased again to 94.7% but in Q2 2015/16 dipped to 93.5%.

How have waiting times after an urgent referral changed by cancer type?

Here we compare data from 2014/15 Q1 to 2015/16 Q1.The proportion of people having an outpatient appointment within two weeks varied slightly by cancer type, but remained above 92.0% for almost all cancer types in both years, except upper gastrointestinal (91%). The highest rates in 2015/16 were seen for haematological malignancies, other cancers, testicular cancer and brain/CNS. The lowest rate in both years was seen for upper gastrointestinal cancer. For about half of the cancer types, performance improved in 2015/16, but for the other half it has deteriorated. In particular the proportion of people with an urgent referral for acute leukaemia seen within 2 weeks has decreased by 4.2 percentage points. Performance between Q1 2014/15 and Q1 2015/16 has improved most for breast cancer (2.3%).

Please note that some of these cancers are very rare (data not shown) and changes in a small number of cases can have a large effect on the proportions.

How have waiting times after an urgent referral changed for suspected breast cancer?

We saw in the previous chart that the proportion of people seen within 2 weeks of an urgent referral for breast cancer has increased between 2014/15 Q1 and 2015/16 Q1. Looking at the longer term trend we can see that between Q1 2012/13 and Q1 2015/16 the proportion has declined from 97.2% to 94.6% in Q1 2015/16, with the lowest point (92.3%) in Q1 2014/15.

The total number of people who had an urgent referral for suspected breast cancer has been increasing over time and was at its highest of 80,572 in Q3 2015/16. The number of these cases being seen within 2 weeks is also increasing in parallel, but there has been variation in the proportion being seen within 2 weeks.

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