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Modernising cancer waiting time standards

NHS 75 logo in top left corner. Blue text on white background reads The NHS is changing the way we measure diagnosing and treating cancer patients. Illustration shows a female lying on a CT scan bed and a patient sitting on a chair with an intravenous infusion set up besides her. A nurse in grey scrubs is standing in front of her.

From 1 October, the standards measuring waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment are being modernised and simplified.

The NHS will move from the 10 different standards in place now to three:

  • Faster Diagnosis Standard: a diagnosis or ruling out of cancer within 28 days of referral (set at 75%)
  • 31-day treatment standard: commence treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat for all cancer patients (set at 96%)
  • 62-day treatment standard: commence treatment within 62 days of being referred or consultant upgrade (set at 85%)

The main changes are:

  • Removal of the Two Week Wait standard requiring a first appointment within two weeks
  • Combining together the first and subsequent treatment 31-day standards to create one headline performance standard.
  • Combining together the Urgent Suspected Cancer GP referral, Urgent Screening and Consultant Upgrade 62-day standards to create one headline performance standard for all patients.

There is no change to the way GPs refer patients onto Urgent Suspected Cancer pathways. The only change is that the NHS will measure how well it is dealing with those referrals by looking at speed of actual diagnosis, not whether the patient has a first appointment within a fortnight. The data submitted by providers will not change, and until the language in the Cancer Waiting Times dataset is updated, expected to be in 2024/25, GPs and providers should still use the “Priority type – Two Week Wait” data item to record performance against this pathway.

This follows a consultation in 2022 where these recommendations received widespread backing from cancer specialists and patients.

The new standards aim to encourage innovations like straight-to-test pathways, remote image review, use of AI and one-stop-shop clinics, and to ensure that patients receive equal focus and priority regardless of their point of entry to the pathway, whether GP referral, screening, or consultant upgrade. They focus on outcomes and incentivising the completion of pathways rather than process measures.

Cancer Waiting Time statistics will continue to be published monthly by NHS England, who will take this opportunity to improve the granularity of the statistics by cancer type.

The target for meeting the Faster Diagnosis Target will be gradually increased, from 75% now to 80% by 2026 and trusts have been asked to now prioritise improving performance against the new over-arching 62-day standard, with an interim target of 70% by March 2024 put in place. More information is available on the NHS website.

Download a summary of the changes.

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