8 October 2020

NHS England cancer waiting times data from August 2020 shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was not met. The target is 93% and 85.2% of patients were seen within two weeks in August 2020. This is a decrease from July 2020, when 87.8% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals decreased from 34,987 in July to 31,978 in August 2020. Around 4,180 below the average monthly figure for 2019-20 as a whole.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was not met with 82.3% of patients being seen within two weeks. It is a decrease from July 2020 when 86.4% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals decreased as 9,498 patients were seen in August 2020 compared to 10,441 in July 2020. Around 5,240 below the average monthly figure for 2019-20 as a whole.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was not met with 87.8% of patients being seen within two weeks, a decrease from 90.4% in July 2020.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was missed for cancer overall (94.5%) and was missed for breast cancer (95.6%). This is an increase from 95.0% in July. The total numbers in breast cancer have decreased from 2,665 in July to 2,587 in August. Around 1,560 below the average monthly figure for 2019-20 as a whole.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (77.9%) but met for breast cancer (86.2%). This is a decrease from 87.0% in July. The total numbers have decreased from 2,054 in July to 1,980 in August. Around 100 below the average monthly figure for 2019-20 as a whole.

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

“We are deeply concerned that the number of people referred to see a specialist with potential symptoms of breast cancer has dropped since last month, after the figures had been recovering.

“Referral numbers are still some way from returning to pre-pandemic levels and with every month that passes more women with breast cancer could be missing the best possible chance of early diagnosis, which is key to preventing deaths from the disease.

“Despite fewer referrals, the two-week wait target was still missed, as was the 31-day target from being diagnosed to starting treatment for breast cancer patients. There is a stark and urgent need for more to be done to tackle the damaging impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

“Pent-up demand for diagnostics and imaging threaten to overwhelm a workforce that was already stretched, and is trying to cope with the significant backlog of women waiting for breast screening. This is why we are urgently calling on the Government and NHS England to set out how the influx in demand for these services will be met. Government must also seize the timely opportunity presented by the Comprehensive Spending Review to invest in recruiting and training NHS staff so the workforce is equipped to ensure breast cancer cases are diagnosed as early as possible to give women the best chance of survival.

“It remains as important as ever during the pandemic that women check their breasts regularly and visit the doctor with any new or unusual changes as while most breast changes won’t be cancer, the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more likely treatment is to be successful.”

ENDS