Waiting times for cancer treatment

The NHS Cancer Plan, introduced in 2000, stated that there should be a maximum of 31 days between decision to treat and first treatment. In 2007, the Cancer Reform Strategy expanded this target to include all second and subsequent cancer treatments.

How have waiting times for cancer treatment changed?

There are three main types of treatments for cancer: drug therapy, surgery, and radiotherapy. It is common for cancer patients to need more than one treatment, which could be a combination of several episodes of one type of treatment, or a combination of multiple types.

For all cancer treatment types, the proportion of people receiving their first treatment within 31 days was consistently high at 98.0% or greater, until Q4 2013/14, when it started to fall. The operational standard for this measure is that 96% of patients receive their first treatment within 31 days; this has been comfortably met in every quarter since 2008/9.

How have waiting times for subsequent cancer treatment changed?

In the 2007 Cancer Reform Strategy, the Department of Health further developed the 31 day target to include not only the first cancer treatment but also the start of all subsequent treatments. Depending on the treatment type the proportion of patients who should receive subsequent treatment within the 31 days differs.

Here we can see that anti-cancer drug regimes have the highest proportion (over 99%) of people receiving their first treatments within 31 days for all time periods. Anti-cancer drug treatment also has the highest target of 98% of people starting subsequent treatment within 31 days. This has been met in every quarter. The proportion of people having surgery within 31 days of the decision to treat is lower overall and is more variable over the time period. This decreased to a low of 95% in Q4 2014/15 and has since increased. It still exceeded the 94% target in every quarter. Similarly, radiotherapy has a target of 94% of people starting subsequent treatment within 31 days, this target has been met in every quarter, as the radiotherapy treatment commencement rate has always been over 97%.


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