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Revealed: Only two ICBs were meeting NHS cancer targets

Revealed: Only two ICBs were meeting NHS cancer targets
By Jess Hacker
17 August 2023

Only two of England’s 42 integrated care boards (ICBs) are meeting the two-week window for patients to be seen by a cancer specialist, as NHS England confirmed today it will scrap the target, Healthcare Leader can reveal.

Until now (17 August), NHS England’s operational standards indicated that 93% of patients with suspected cancer should be seen by a specialist within two weeks of a referral from their GP.

But new analysis of NHS data has shown that just two ICBs are meeting that target for all cancer referrals.

It comes as NHS England today confirmed it will scrap this two-week target in favour of a Faster Diagnosis Standard, effective from October.

Healthcare Leader’s analysis of the NHS’s monthly performance statistics for June 2023 has revealed that for all cancers, only two ICBs are working above the target:

  • Kent and Medway ICB (95.32%)
  • Gloucestershire ICB (94.77%)

While less than half of patients referred with suspected cancer being seen within two weeks in Dorset ICB (47.91%) and Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire ICB (44.1%)

And for cases where patients present breast symptoms but cancer is not initially suspected, less than half of patients in five ICB areas were seen by a specialist within 14 days:

  • Lincolnshire ICB (13.25%)
  • Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin ICB (18.18%)
  • Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly ICB (29.59%)
  • Suffolk and North East Essex ICB (30.56%)
  • South Yorkshire ICB (45.31%)

While three ICBs were operating above the standard:

  • Gloucestershire ICB (99.24%)
  • Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West ICB (97.91%)
  • North West London ICB (95.37%)

NHS England publishes this data monthly and was contacted for comment.

Its newly reformed cancer targets launched today will lead to faster diagnoses and treatment, it says, as it confirmed its plans to consolidate the 10 current performance standards into just three.

Under the new three-pronged standard, it will be expected that:

  • Patients with an urgent referral from their GP, who have breast cancer symptoms, or have been identified via screening should have cancer diagnosed or ruled out within 28 days
  • Patients with a diagnosis begin treatment within 62 days of a GP referral
  • Patients should start their first treatment within 31 days of receiving a cancer diagnosis and decision to treat.

Commenting on the data, a spokesperson for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire ICB, said: ‘Reducing waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment is a key priority for us. We recognise that some people are having to wait longer than we would like from initial GP referral to diagnosis and treatment. Staff are continuing to work hard to address long waits – prioritising those in greatest need.

‘Two new community diagnostic centres are also due to be operational from April next year in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare which we expect will help thousands of people across the area to be seen more quickly.’

National NHS medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said of the new targets: ‘The updated ambitions will mean the NHS can be even more focused on outcomes for patients, rather than just appointment times and it’s yet another of example of the NHS bringing cancer care into the modern era of care.’

And health minister, Will Quince said: ‘The biggest factor in people surviving cancer is the stage at which they are diagnosed. We have listened to the advice from clinical experts and NHS England to reform cancer standards which will speed up diagnosis for patients.’

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of ‘moving goalposts’.

On the new targets, he said: ‘Cancer patients are left waiting dangerously long for diagnosis and treatment.

‘Since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, hundreds of thousands of patients have been let down. Now he’s moving the goalposts and cutting standards for patients, when he should be cutting waiting times instead.’

Recommendations to scrap the two-week wait were first made by the Independent Cancer Taskforce in 2015.

In its consultation, NHS England said the two-week wait target ‘sets no expectation of when patients should receive test results or actually get a confirmed diagnosis’.

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