14 May 2020

The NHS waiting times quarterly data shows the targets of 93% for the two-week wait for those referred with breast symptoms has been missed:

  • The number of people referred by their GP to see a specialist with a breast symptom where cancer is suspected has fallen by 7% from 111,111 in Q3 2019/20 to 103,439 in Q4 2019/20. The number seen within two weeks by a specialist has fallen slightly from 90.9% in Q3 2019/20 to 90.8% in Q4 2019/20.
  • The number of people referred by their GP to see a specialist with a breast symptom where cancer isn’t initially suspected has fallen by 13% from 46,264 in Q3 2019/20 to 40,348 in Q4 2019/20. The number seen within two weeks by a specialist has fallen from 87.3% in Q3 2019/20 to 85.6% in Q4 2019/20.

NHS waiting times data from March 2020 shows:

  • 32,702 people were referred by their GP to see a specialist with a breast symptom where cancer is suspected. This has fallen by nearly 5% from 34,266 in February 2020 and by 20% from 41,083 in March 2019.
  • 12,411 people were referred by their GP to see a specialist with a breast symptom where cancer isn’t initially suspected. This has fallen by around 9% from 13,602 in February 2020 and by 28% from 17,137 in March 2019.
  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was missed. The target is 93% but only 91.96% of patients were seen within two weeks in March 2020. This is a very slight increase from February 2020, when 91.62% of patients were seen within two weeks.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was missed with 86.13% of patients being seen within two weeks. This is the 25th month in a row that this target has been missed. It is a decrease from February 2020, when 87.34% of patients were seen within two weeks.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was missed with 92.0% of patients being seen within two weeks, a decrease from 92.7% in February 2020.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was met for cancer overall (96.8%) and was met for breast cancer (97.8%).
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (78.9%) but met for breast cancer (92.4%).

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

"These figures are a worrying indication of the impact the start of the coronavirus outbreak had on the number of referrals for people with possible symptoms to see a breast cancer specialist, and this concerning picture looks set to worsen in next month’s data.

“It’s so important everyone knows that they can and should still get in touch with their GP surgery urgently if they notice an unusual change in their breasts. Check your breasts regularly, and while most breast changes won’t be cancer contact your GP as soon as possible if you find anything different or new. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the more likely treatment is to be successful.

“With NHS breast screening also currently suspended in some areas, we now urgently need to see clear plans put in place across the NHS to recover cancer diagnostic services, to minimise any delays for women and men and to ensure the already stretched NHS workforce can cope.

“Anyone concerned about a potential symptom of breast cancer can also call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000. If you need someone to talk to, our expert nurses are just at the end of the phone.”

ENDS