The scrapping of a target for patients to see a specialist within two weeks if their GP suspects they have cancer is expected to be confirmed within days under new plans by the NHS in England.
Instead, the new “faster diagnosis standard” proposes that patients who have been urgently referred should have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days.
When a consultation on the proposals began last year, the NHS highlighted that the current two-week target set no expectation of when patients should receive test results or have a confirmed diagnosis.
Cancer Research UK said the proposed new targets should lead to improvements in diagnosis.
Prof Pat Price, an oncologist and head of the charity Radiotherapy UK, 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, called a 62-day referral to treatment standard.
Cancer patients should receive their first treatment within a month of a decision to treat after diagnosis, which the NHS calls a 31-day decision to treatment standard.
The NHS said the plan would help diagnose more cancers earlier and save more lives.
At present there are nine cancer performance targets that 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% of patients should start a first treatment for cancer within 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%”, meaning three-quarters of patients should have a diagnosis within a month.
When the consultation was launched, Cancer Research said it would like there to be a 95% target in the future.