Trusts are failing to hit the diagnosis target with more than 65,000 patients waiting longer than four weeks to find out if they have cancer each month, Cancer Research UK has said.
According to analysis led by the charity, nearly half (45.5%) of the 143 NHS trusts are not meeting the recently introduced Faster Diagnosis Standard (FDS).
The 2021 target – which was affirmed in the NHS Long Term Plan – would see 75% of patients with suspected cancer receive a diagnosis within 28 days of a GP referral.
It comes after NHS England last week announced that last year marked the highest year on record for cancer check referrals, at 2.7 million people.
The charity said: ‘Calculated as the average number of people who received a diagnosis, or had cancer ruled out and the result communicated to them beyond the 28-day standard between October 2021 and February 2022, this leaves approximately 65,400 people in limbo.’
And despite the ‘tireless efforts of NHS staff’, chronic capacity issues mean that patients are being let down by the system, it said.
When it was first proposed in as part of the 2015 Cancer Strategy for England, the target was set at 95%.
However, due to chronic shortages of specialists critical to diagnosing cancer across the NHS, this figure was lowered to 75%, which Cancer Research UK said is ‘too low’.
It noted that even if that was met, around 55,000 people a month could be left waiting too long.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘As a country we should not be willing to accept that over 1 in 4 people on an urgent referral are left waiting over a month to find out whether they have cancer. Nor should we stand for the variation that exists across the country.’
The charity urged the Government to include a ‘more ambitious’ target in its upcoming 10-year cancer plan.
Last month, MPs criticised the Government over a lack of evidence to indicate that it has made a ‘serious effort’ to address growing gaps in the cancer workforce.
Recent analysis of the most complete data to date from Cancer Research UK found significant disparities in cancer rates by ethnicity in England.