14 January 2021

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

“While it’s good news that November’s waiting times data shows referrals for people with potential symptoms of breast cancer to see a specialist continuing to increase, and to higher levels compared with November last year – despite the drop in referrals reported in April - we are deeply concerned by the notable decrease1 in the number of women being seen within two weeks; this vital target has been missed for the sixth consecutive month.

“This worrying development reflects the immense pressures being placed on a diagnostic and imaging cancer workforce that, even prior to the pandemic, has been chronically under-resourced. With early diagnosis of breast cancer giving treatment the best chance of success we urgently need the Government to make the long-term investment, and take the strategic approach needed, to address the scale of the crisis facing the cancer workforce.

“Since November the NHS has been put under even more strain due to the significant rise in COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions, and while we will wait to see the impacts of this in future data, our concern is that this further pressure may lead to continued challenges to meet two week wait targets meaning, in the worst cases, more women potentially living with undetected cancer.

“It’s vital that during the COVID-19 pandemic women still get in touch with 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. If you need to attend an appointment there will be safety measures in place to reduce the risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading. 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. The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was not met in November 2020 and the percentage of patients seen dropped by 9.5 percentage points from October 2020. The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was also not met, with a 9.2 percentage point drop in patients seen in November 2020 from the month before.

NHS England cancer waiting times data from November 2020 shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was not met. The target is 93% and 74.1% of patients were seen within two weeks in November 2020. This is a decrease from October 2020, when 83.6% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased from 40,654 in October to 44,099 in November 2020. This is 7,350 more people compared to November 2019.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was not met with 67.8% of patients being seen within two weeks. It is a decrease from October 2020 when 77.0% of patients were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased from 12,148 in October to 13,804 in November 2020. This is 1,558 people fewer compared to November 2019.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was not met with 87.0% of patients being seen within two weeks, a decrease from 87.9% in October 2020.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was missed for cancer overall (95.2%) and was met for breast cancer (96.9%). This is a slight increase from 96.8% in October. The total numbers in breast cancer have increased from 3,483 in October to 3,722 in November 2020. This is 273 people fewer compared to November 2019.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (75.5%) and was met for breast cancer (86.8%). This is an increase from 83.5% in October. The total numbers have decreased from 2,192 in October to 2,152 in November 2020. This is 152 more people compared to November 2019.