11 March 2021

NHS England cancer waiting times data from January 2021 (published on Thursday 11 March 2021) shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was not met. The target is 93% and 66.7% of patients were seen within two weeks in January 2021. This is a decrease from January 2020, when 89.0% of patients were seen within two weeks, and December 2020 when 71.3 % of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased from 36,471 in January 2020 to 37,811 in January 2021, but decreased from 41,823 in December 2020.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was not met with 62.7% of patients being seen within two weeks. It is a decrease from January 2020 when 83.6% of patients were seen within two weeks, and December 2020 when 67.0% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals decreased from 14,299 in January 2020 to 12,437 in January 2021. Referrals also decreased from 13,238 in December 2020.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was not met with 83.4% of patients being seen within two weeks, a decrease from 90.1% in January 2020, and from 87.5% in December 2020.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was missed for cancer overall (94.0%) and was missed for breast cancer (93.9%). This is a decrease from 95.6% in January 2020, and 97.5% in December 2020. The total numbers in breast cancer have decreased from 4,194 in January 2020 to 3,491 in January 2021. Numbers in breast cancer also decreased from 4,012 in December 2020.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (71.2%) and was missed for breast cancer (79.8%). This is a decrease from 86.6% in January 2020 and 84.5% in December 2020. The total numbers have decreased from 1,990 in January 2020 to 1,958 in January 2021. The total numbers also decreased from 2,355 in December 2020.

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

“Earlier this week we revealed that almost 11,000 people in the UK could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer due to disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic1; with all waiting time targets for breast cancer being missed in January it’s deeply worrying that the pandemic continues to take its toll.

“January saw a drop in numbers of women with possible symptoms of breast cancer being referred to see a specialist, compared to the previous month, and among those referred fewer were seen within two weeks. Worryingly, these numbers have fallen for the fourth consecutive month, with the vital two week wait target being missed for the eighth month in a row.

“The number of women starting treatment for breast cancer also dropped considerably in January compared to December 2020, with cancer surgery cancellations being a possible factor at play, leaving more women enduring longer waits, at what’s already a hugely anxious time. It is vital that women are diagnosed and start treatment as early as possible to ensure their treatment has the best chance of being successful.

“We know the NHS is working tirelessly to safely diagnose and treat people with breast cancer, but with immense pressures on the chronically under-resourced imaging and diagnostic workforce the Government needs to take urgent action to invest long-term and tackle the rapidly growing crisis facing the cancer workforce. Until then we fear that even more women will face delays that, in the worst cases, could mean some women die of the disease.

“It’s crucial that women contact their GP if they find any new or unusual breast changes – while most breast changes won’t be cancer, on the occasions it is, early diagnosis increases the chance of successful treatment. There are COVID-19 infection prevention measures in place to keep everyone safe at appointments. Anyone seeking information and support can speak to our expert nurses by calling our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1 Calculated using a combination of data sets: the number of people starting their first treatment for breast cancer under the 31 day wait between March and December 2020 (compared to data from the same months in 2019) in England and Scotland; and based on urgent referrals and screening data in Wales and Northern Ireland. The number fewer breast cancer diagnoses between March and December 2020 breaks down across the UK as follows - England – 8900; Scotland – 890; Wales – 687; Northern Ireland – 248.