12 November 2020

NHS England cancer waiting times data from September 2020 shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was not met. The target is 93% and 80.9% of people were seen within two weeks in September 2020. This is a decrease from August 2020, when 85.2% of people were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased from 31,978 in August to 37,933 in September 2020. This is 4,200 people more compared to September 2019.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was not met with 77.2% of people being seen within two weeks. It is a decrease from August 2020 when 82.3% of people were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased as 10,963 people were seen in September 2020 compared to 9,498 in August 2020. This is 2,512 people fewer compared to September 2019.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was not met with 86.2% of people being seen within two weeks, a decrease from 87.8% in August 2020.
  • The 31 day target (of 96% of patients starting their first treatment within 31 days of diagnosis) was missed for cancer overall (94.5%) and was missed for breast cancer (95.2%). This is a slight decrease from 95.6% in August. The total numbers in breast cancer have increased from 2,587 in August to 3,375 in September. This is 672 patients fewer compared to September 2019.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (74.7%) and was missed for breast cancer (84.1%). This is a decrease from 86.2% in August. The total numbers have increased from 1,980 in August to 2,292 in September. This is 281 patients more compared to September 2019.

Quarterly NHS England breast cancer waiting times from Q2 20/21 shows:

  • The two week wait target for people referred with suspected breast cancer was missed. The target is 93% but 84.5% of people were seen within two weeks in Q2 in 2020/21. This is a decrease from Q1 2020/21, when 92.8% of people were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased from 70,353 in Q1 to 104,898 in Q2. This is 1,590 people fewer compared to Q2 last year.
  • The two week wait target for breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) was missed with 81.9% of people being seen within two weeks. It is a decrease from Q1 2020/21, when 89.5% of people were seen within two weeks. Referrals increased from 17,625 in Q1 to 30,902 in Q2. This is 11,617 people fewer compared to Q2 last year.
  • The two week wait target for suspected cancer for all cancers was missed with 88.1% of people being seen within two weeks, a decrease from 92.0% in Q1 2020/21.
  • 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 (95.2%). This is an increase from Q1 2020/21 (93.6%). Referrals increased from 7,164 in Q1 to 8,627 in Q2. This is 3,959 patients fewer compared to Q2 last year.
  • The 62 day target (of 85% of patients starting treatment within 62 days of urgent GP referral) was missed for cancer overall (76.9%) but met for breast cancer (85.7%). This is a decrease from Q1 2020/21 (88.4%). Referrals increased from 4,480 in Q1 to 6,326 in Q2. This is 43 patients fewer compared to Q2 last year.

Mia Rosenblatt, Associate Director of Policy and Influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“It’s good news that more people with potential symptoms of breast cancer are now being referred to see a specialist, bringing referrals back to pre-pandemic levels, but we’re deeply concerned by the significant drop in the percentage of these women being seen promptly within the two week target, along with targets around patients starting treatment just being missed.

“With these figures exposing the stark reality that the increase in referrals is likely to overwhelm our already stretched workforce, our great fear is that more women could be living with undetected breast cancer as a result of delayed diagnoses.

“The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has already had major impacts on both diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, and now the NHS faces unprecedented combined pressures inflicted by the second wave and winter. There’s never been a more urgent need for the Government and NHS England to set out how the influx in demand for imaging and diagnostics will be safely met so breast cancer services can safely continue, to give all women the best chance of survival.

“Alongside this, the Spending Review presents the UK Government with a timely opportunity, that it must seize, to invest in recruiting and training NHS staff. A fully resourced imaging and diagnostic workforce is essential to deliver early diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer patients.

“It remains as important as ever during the COVID-19 pandemic that women check their breasts regularly and get any new or unusual breast changes checked out by a GP. While most breast changes won’t be cancer, on the occasions it is, early diagnosis increases the chance of successful treatment and can help prevent women dying of the disease. Anyone looking for information and support can speak to our expert nurses by calling our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.” 

ENDS