War on cancer will see ALL patients receive test results in 10 days

War on cancer will see ALL patients receive test results within 10 days under NHS plans to boost survival rates

  • EXCLUSIVE: NHS England tells managers to speed up cancer checks and scans
  • This means doctors can start treatment sooner, when disease is easier to treat

Patients will receive cancer test results within ten days under new NHS plans aimed at boosting survival rates, the Mail can reveal.

NHS England has written to local managers demanding they speed up the time they take to arrange, conduct and analyse the likes of blood checks and MRI scans.

This means doctors can start treatment sooner, when the disease is easier to treat, or rapidly relieve patients’ anxiety if giving the all-clear.

The NHS has opened 105 community diagnostic centres in convenient locations, such as shopping centres, in a bid to increase capacity.

These ‘one-stop shops’ will be expected to prioritise cancer patients, the letter adds.

NHS England has written to local managers demanding they speed up the time they take to arrange, conduct and analyse the likes of blood checks and MRI scans. Pictured: Consultant studying a mammogram

NHS figures show just 58 per cent  of cancer patients started treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral. The NHS’s own rulebook sets out that at least 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this timeframe but this figure has not been met since December 2015

Bosses hope the move will increase the number of patients who receive a cancer diagnosis – or have the disease ruled out – within the 28-day target.

Although some tests can be done at the same time, others are only done once the results of previous checks come back.

If there are extended delays between tests, someone may be waiting too long if they need a scan and then a biopsy, for example.

It is understood fewer than one in ten trusts currently turn around cancer test results within ten days of a referral, on average.

All will be expected to hit this timescale by March next year.

Furthermore, only 75 per cent of patients nationally had cancer diagnosed or ruled-out within 28 days in February, according to the latest official figures.

READ MORE Patients suspected of having cancer face agonising wait of up to 2 years to get diagnosed on NHS, damning analysis reveals

The figures, exposed by the Labour Party, reveal the longest someone had been waiting to see a specialist after receiving an urgent cancer referral from their GP was six months, or 171 days

Three NHS England officials – the medical director for secondary care, national cancer director, and chief operating officer – wrote to integrated care boards and trusts yesterday saying: ‘We know that shorter waits are important both for those with confirmed cancer, where earlier diagnosis leads to better clinical outcomes; but also to those patients who do not have cancer, where swiftly delivered results can minimise what is a period of understandable anxiety.

‘Improving waiting times for patients referred for urgent suspected cancer will be a critical priority for the NHS over the coming year.

‘For these reasons it is essential that in the year ahead our national investments in diagnostic capacity are more clearly prioritised for patients being investigated for urgent suspected cancer.’

The number of patients waiting 62 days to start treatment has fallen from 33,950 in September last year to 19,027 in March this year.

More people than ever before are being seen for cancer, with 470,000 more checked in the past year than the same period before the pandemic.

Progress comes despite the impact of industrial action which has resulted in thousands of cancer appointments having to be re-scheduled.

Jane Lyons, chief executive of Cancer 52, which represents over 100 patient support groups, said: ‘For the vast majority of patients whose tests show they don’t have cancer, ending what is a spell of extreme anxiety sooner will be a great relief, and for the roughly seven in 100 who are diagnosed with cancer, moving on from that period of uncertainty to being able to discuss next steps with doctors as quickly as possible is crucial.

When were the national targets for cancer waiting times last met?

Target: 93% of patients should see a hospital specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer 

Last met: May 2020, and February 2019 outside of pandemic

Target: 85% of patients should start treatment for cancer within two months of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer

Last met: December 2015

Target: 75% of patients should be diagnosed (told they have cancer, or cancer being definitively excluded) within a month of an urgent referral 

Last met: Only met in one month since standard was introduced in April 2021

‘When we know record levels of people are being sent by their GPs for cancer tests, it’s good to see the NHS making clear these patients need to be prioritised.’ 

Professor Mike Osborn, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, said: ‘We welcome the announcement of support for pathology services which will help our members provide the quicker diagnoses that patients need.

‘Pathologists have long asked for improvements in digital pathology and infrastructure to help them provide better patient care.

‘We fully support this initiative and the fresh focus on pathology which it should provide will, we hope, make a real difference to patients.’

Dame Cally Palmer, national cancer director and NHS England, told the Mail: ‘It is a testament to the hard work of NHS staff that we are seeing and treating record numbers of patients for cancer, and have made significant progress bringing down the backlog and achieving the target for diagnosing three quarters of people within 28 days – all despite huge demand and pressures on the system.

‘Fortunately, the vast majority of suspected cancer patients waiting for a diagnostic test will not have cancer, but for those waiting it can be a very anxious time, so we are asking trusts to aim for a ten day turnaround time between GP referral and tests results for patients – so we can get people the all-clear faster, or in some cases ensure patients diagnosed with cancer are able to start treatment sooner.

‘Lives are saved when cancers are caught early and while we’re already diagnosing a higher proportion of cancers at an earlier stage than ever before – we want to ensure we’re making the absolute most of the diagnostic capacity in our community centres and hospitals.’

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