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NHS two-week wait list target for cancer to be replaced with 28 days under new plans in England

The target for patients to see a specialist within two weeks if their GP suspects they have cancer is expected to be scrapped under new plans.

The proposals, by the NHS in England, say patients who have been urgently referred should have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days.

Cancer Research UK said that the proposed new targets should lead to improvements in diagnosis, while the NHS said it would help diagnose more cancers earlier and save more lives.

The “Faster Diagnosis Standard” has been under consultation since last year, and an outcome is expected within days, the BBC reported. They will then be subject to final approval by Health Secretary, Steve Barclay.

Last year, when a consultation on the proposals began, the NHS said that the current two-week wait target sets no expectation of when patients should receive test results or have a confirmed diagnosis.

However, oncologist Pat Price, the head of the Radiotherapy UK charity, told the BBC that while too many targets could be disruptive, she was “deeply worried” because “the clear and simple truth is that we are not investing enough in cancer treatment capacity”.

Under the new NHS proposals:

  • Patients who have been urgently referred, have symptoms of breast cancer, or have been picked up through screening, should have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days, also known as the Faster Diagnosis Standard.
  • Patients who receive a cancer diagnosis will start treatment within nine weeks from the date of referral, dubbed a 62-day referral to treatment standard.
  • Cancer patients should receive their first treatment within a month of a decision to treat following diagnosis, which the NHS calls a 31-day decision to treatment standard.

There are currently nine cancer performance targets which span three broad areas, including: the two-week wait between a GP referral and first consultant appointment; a one-month wait for care once a decision has been made to offer treatment for cancer such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery; and a two-month wait from the urgent GP referral to a first treatment of cancer.

The NHS is supposed to meet a certain threshold for each target, for instance at least 85 per cent of patients should start a first treatment for cancer within two months (62 days) of an urgent GP referral when cancer has been suspected.

But many of these targets have not been met for some time.

Under the new proposals, the Faster Diagnosis Standard will have an “initial performance threshold of 75 per cent”, meaning that three quarters of patients should have a diagnosis within a month.

When the consultation was launched, Cancer Research said that it would like to see a 95 per cent target in the future.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “By making sure more patients are diagnosed and treated as early as possible following a referral and replacing the outdated two-week wait target with the Faster Diagnosis Standard already being used across the country, hundreds of patients waiting to have cancer ruled out or diagnosed could receive this news faster.”

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