10 July 2020

NHS waiting times data from May 2020 shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was met. The target is 93% and 95.61% of patients were seen within two weeks in May. This is an increase from April 2020, when 90.37% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased from 16,906 in April to 22,413 in May.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was met with 93.74% of people being seen within two weeks. It is an increase from April when 80.85% of people were seen within two weeks. The total number of people seen by a specialist has only recovered a small amount and is still significantly below pre-pandemic levels. 5,371 people were seen in May compared to 3,759 in April.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was met with 94.2% of people being seen within two weeks, an increase from 88.0% in April.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was missed for cancer overall (93.9%) and was missed for breast cancer (90.5%). This is a significant decrease from 97.4% in April. The total numbers of patients waiting to start treatment for breast cancer have fallen from 3,108 in April to 1,930 in May.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (69.9%) but met for breast cancer (87.3% )The 62 wait for first treatment has slightly decreased from 89.85% in April to 87.3% in May. The total numbers of patients waiting to start treatment for breast cancer have also fallen from 1,625 in April to 1,272 in May.

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

"These latest figures paint an incredibly concerning picture of the potentially devastating impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

“While the number of people being referred by their GP is starting to recover from the major drop at the peak of the pandemic, we are still some way from the figures returning to what we would normally expect to see. It’s so important 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 changes in their breasts. While most breast changes won’t be cancer, the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more likely treatment is to be successful.

“Worryingly, more breast cancer patients are now waiting longer than the 31-day target from being diagnosed to starting their treatment. As the NHS works through the potential influx of referrals in the coming months, our fear is that we may see these delays in starting breast cancer treatment continue to grow.

“We urge the Government and NHS England to set out a comprehensive plan to ensure all cancer services can fully recover and resume. This includes ensuring that anyone whose appointment to see a specialist has been delayed is monitored and followed up. To catch-up on the backlog, we also need to see plans to ensure there will be sufficient capacity in the already stretched workforce to meet this huge increase 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 essential we do all we can to minimise delays."

ENDS