15 April 2021

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now said:

“As lockdown restrictions ease in England, and we look ahead to a ‘new normal’, all vital targets being missed for breast cancer again in February is a stark reminder of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While urgent referrals to see a specialist for all suspected cancer almost met the waiting time target in February, the figure specific to suspected breast cancer (77.2%) paints a very different picture - this is hugely concerning when we know an early breast cancer diagnosis is critical to women’s chances of survival.

“While it’s difficult to predict the full impacts of the pandemic on breast cancer, our estimate that almost 11,000 people could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer in the UK due to the pandemic illustrates the scale of disruption to cancer services; and tragically, in the worst cases, some women could die from the disease due to delays.

“Our diagnostic and imaging workforce is under immense pressure and today’s figures highlight the critical and urgent need for UK Governments to invest in a long-term plan that tackles the growing cancer workforce crisis – enabling hard-working NHS staff to provide the best care for breast cancer patients who have already paid an unacceptable price due to the pandemic and must not be left behind.

“We urge women to contact their GP if they find any new or unusual breast changes. COVID-19 infection safety measures are in place for appointments. Anyone seeking information and support can speak to our expert nurses by calling our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.”

-ENDS-

Notes to Editor

NHS England cancer waiting times data from February 2021 (published on Thursday 15 April 2021) shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was not met. The target is 93% and 77.2% of patients were seen within two weeks in February 2021. This is an increase from January 2021, when 66.7% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals decreased from 37,811 in January 2021 to 37,692 in February 2021.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was not met with 71.5% of patients being seen within two weeks. It is an increase from January 2021 when 62.7% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals decreased from 12,437 in January 2021 to 12,199 in February 2021.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was not met with 90.3% of patients being seen within two weeks, an increase from 83.4% in January 2021.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was missed for cancer overall (94.7%) and was missed for breast cancer (94.7%). This is an increase from 93.9% in January 2021. The total numbers in breast cancer have decreased from 3,491 in January 2021 to 3,467 in February 2021.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (69.7%) and was missed for breast cancer (77.0%). This is a decrease from 79.8 in January 2021. The total numbers have increased from 1,958 in January 2021 to 1,982 in February 2021.