10 Mar 2022

NHS England has launched a consultation on proposed new standards that will help diagnose more cancers earlier and save lives.

Anyone wishing to submit their views to the consultation can do so on the NHS England website or by email to england.reviewofstandards@nhs.net

Developed with clinical leaders, the proposals – supported by NHS staff as well as patient groups and cancer charities – aim to simplify and update cancer standards, based on the recommendations of the Independent Cancer Taskforce.

Patients, clinicians and the public are asked to share their views on the proposed standards over the next month, with a report setting out the changes published today.

Cancer currently has a complex set of nine separate performance standards, with different targets covering different routes into the system, for example, screening or a GP referral.

The new plan proposes ensuring patients have the same opportunity for faster diagnosis and treatment, including:

  • The 28-day faster diagnosis standard, which would see patients who have been urgently referred, have breast symptoms, or have been picked up through screening, have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days.
  • A 62-day referral to treatment standard, meaning patients who receive a cancer diagnosis will start treatment within nine weeks from the date of referral.
  • A 31-day decision to treat to treatment standard, so that cancer patients receive their first treatment within a month of a decision to treat following diagnosis.

These new standards aim to make diagnosis and treatment timelines easier to understand for people with suspected cancer and their families, while also helping to diagnose cancers earlier and save more lives.

Before the faster diagnosis standard was introduced, access standards for cancer have remained unchanged since 2009. The current two week wait target sets no expectation of when patients should receive test results or actually get a confirmed diagnosis.

Cancer care has been prioritised throughout the pandemic with latest data showing the number of people getting checked for cancer increased by over half a million (512,110) in one year between December 2020 and December 2021.

In December alone, there were over 215,000 urgent referrals for cancer and more than nine out of 10 people started treatment within one month.

Patients have told the NHS that the focus on achieving a rapid diagnosis or ruling out of cancer is the right one, and is more meaningful to patients than the timing of a first appointment.

Dame Cally Palmer, NHS National Director for Cancer said: “Access standards have been key to improving timeliness of treatment for people with cancer since they were first introduced in 2000.

“As we see advances in diagnosis and treatments for cancer, it is only right that these standards are modernised – so that we can ensure patients are diagnosed more quickly and are given the treatment they need as soon as possible, helping us save even more lives.

“These proposed changes are an important part of improving cancer care and so from today, the NHS will be inviting views from patients, staff and the public”.