11 June 2020

NHS waiting times data from April 2020 shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was missed. The target is 93% but only 90.37% of people were seen within two weeks in April 2020. This is a very slight decrease from March 2020, when 91.96% of people were seen within two weeks. The total number of people referred by their GP to see a specialist in April has nearly halved from 32,702 in March to just 16,906 in April.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was missed with 80.85% of people being seen within two weeks. This is the 26th month in a row that this target has been missed. It is a decrease from February 2020, when 86.13% of people were seen within two weeks. The total number of people referred by their GP to see a specialist have experienced an even bigger drop from 12,411 referrals in March to just 3,759 in April.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was missed with 88.0% of people being seen within two weeks, a decrease from 92.0% in March 2020.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was met for cancer overall (96.3%) and was met for breast cancer (97.4%). The total numbers of patients waiting to start treatment for breast cancer have fallen from 4,990 in March to 3,108 in April.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (74.3%) but met for breast cancer (89.8%). The 62 day wait for first treatment for breast cancer has also fallen from 92.43% in March to 89.85% in April. The total numbers of patients waiting to start treatment have also fallen from 2,563 in March to 1,625 in April.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity, said: 

"These hugely concerning figures are the first signs of the potentially devastating impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Our fears following the height of the pandemic are now unfortunately being confirmed with such a major drop in the numbers of people being referred by their GP in only the space of a month.

“Whilst we understand that the number of people being referred is starting to recover, we are some way from the figures returning to what we would normally expect to see. It’s vital women continue to check their breasts regularly and know that they can and should get in touch with their GP surgery urgently if they notice any unusual change in their breasts. While most breast changes won’t be cancer the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the more likely treatment is to be successful.

“We now urge the Government and NHS to focus their attention on the recovery of cancer services and ensure that cancer diagnostics and treatment can return to pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible. This includes ensuring that anyone whose appointment to see a specialist has been delayed is monitored and followed up. But to catch-up on the backlog, we also need to see plans to ensure there will be sufficient capacity in the workforce to meet this huge influx in demand. Combined with the suspension of the breast screening programme in many areas, we are really concerned about the pent-up demand for both diagnostics and treatment that these low figures suggest.

“It is also clear that these worrying issues are not limited to the early detection of cancer alone. As cancer catch-up strategies for the next stage of the pandemic are developed, it is essential that the often-forgotten needs of patients with incurable secondary breast cancer are recognised and addressed. Without clear plans to restore treatment, services and trials as soon as it is safe and feasible to do so, thousands of people with advanced cancer could miss out on precious extra time with their loved ones.”