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Urgent GP cancer referral target missed for the first time ever

The two-week urgent GP referral target for suspected cancer has been missed for the first time since it came into effect, official figures have revealed.

The new figures published by NHS England spanned April to June 2018, and found that the time to treatment target scores for both GP referral and the cancer screening programme had hit an all-time low.

Charity leaders have said it’s ‘concerning’ that these results are being seen when winter pressures should have stopped.

In the latest quarter, 91.4% of patients with suspected cancer urgently referred by a GP were seen within 14 days.

This is the first time this figure has fallen below the 93% target, and represents the worst quarterly performance against this measure since records began in 2008/09.

The proportion of suspected cancer patients who started treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred by a GP also dropped from 82.3% last quarter to 80.8%, meaning that the 85% target has now been missed for the 18th consecutive quarter.

The report also found that:

  • Of the patients referred by an NHS cancer screening programme, 88.6% started treatment within 62 days, below the target of 90% for the second consecutive quarter
  • Of the patients treated, 97.5% began first definitive cancer treatment within 31 days of receiving their diagnosis, up from 97.2% in the last quarter 
  • Of the people urgently referred for breast symptoms (where cancer was not initially suspected) 83.8% were seen within two weeks of referral, down from 92.3% in the last quarter

Senior policy fellow Tim Gardner, from the charity Health Foundation which analysed the figures, said: ‘This data suggests the health service’s capacity to diagnose and treat those patients promptly has not kept pace with need and the 14 day wait target from GP referral for suspected cancer to first outpatient appointment has been missed for a whole quarter for the first time since records began in 2008/09.

‘This is concerning at a time of the year when the NHS should have some respite from winter pressures, and there is a similar picture of longer waits for emergency care and planned surgery as demand exceeds capacity.’

Back in 2015, NICE released new guidance which told GPs to refer patients with suspected cancer at a lower risk threshold.


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