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We respond to latest waiting times data in England - December 2023

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now said:   

“It’s deeply concerning that every month far too many women continue to endure lengthy and anxious waits to have symptoms checked out, receive a diagnosis and start vital treatment that could give them the best chance of survival. 

“It’s also alarming that the proportion of people waiting over 104 days – which is way beyond the 62-day target – to get a diagnosis and start treatment is over five times higher now than at the start of the pandemic,* with little sign of improving.  

“Urgent action must be taken so that no-one affected by breast cancer faces unacceptably long waiting times. NHS England must speed up diagnosis and treatment to deliver the care patients deserve and potentially save more lives from breast cancer. This must include investment in diagnostic staff, publishing more transparent data on cancer waiting times,* and cancer services being supported to deliver care.”  

 ENDS  

Notes to editors  

[1] Proportion of people waiting for over 104 days in December 2023 was 4.8% and in April 2020 - the first full month of lockdown - it was 0.9%. In October and November 2023, it was 5.5%. 

[2] We are calling for NHSE to publish monthly cancer waiting time data which includes FDS performance for the proportion of breast cancer patients who have their cancer confirmed within 28 days, separate from those referrals which have cancer ruled out.  

Decoding the data on breast cancer waiting times, Breast Cancer Now  

October 2023 waiting times data in England saw the official change in cancer waiting time targets to focus on the ‘Faster Diagnosis Standard’, (FDS) - the target for people to get a diagnosis or have cancer ruled out within 28 days of their urgent referral. This measure has replaced the target for 93% of suspected cancer referrals to be seen within two weeks.   

As a result of Breast Cancer Now’s tireless campaigning, NHS England (NHSE) has recognised the need for the FDS to be more ambitious for breast cancer than their target for 75% of patients to meet the standard by March 2024. They have set an expectation that more than 90% of urgent breast cancer referrals should be diagnosed or ruled out within 28 days, however this is not consistently being met.  

December 2023: 

28-day Faster Diagnosis Standard  

  • 89.0% of people with exhibited (non-cancer) breast symptoms (where cancer not initially suspected) were told by a specialist if they had cancer, or if cancer was definitively excluded within 28-days of an urgent referral. This is an increase from November 2023, when the figure was 88.8%  
  • 82.9% of people with suspected breast cancer following a screening referral were told by a specialist if they had cancer, or if cancer was definitively excluded within 28-days of an urgent referral. This is a slight increase from November 2023, when the figure was 82.8%  
  • 88.8% of people with urgent suspected breast cancer were told by a specialist if they had cancer, or if cancer was definitively excluded within 28-days of an urgent referral. This is an increase from November 2023, when the figure was 87.7%.  

31-day – 96% target 

  • 90.9% of people started their first treatment within 31 days of receiving a decision to treat/earliest clinically appropriate date. This is a decrease from November 2023, when the figure was 91.4%.  

62-day – 85% target 

  • 67.5% of people with breast cancer started their first treatment within 62 days of urgent referral. This is a slight increase from November 2023, when the figure was 67.4%  

More detailed analysis shows that people being diagnosed with breast cancer are much less likely to be given their results within 28 days of urgent referral, compared to people who have breast cancer ruled out.  

In July 2023 (the most recent data available), only 71.1% of urgent suspected breast cancer referrals were diagnosed with breast cancer within 28 days, while 92.7% of referrals without breast cancer had it ruled out within 28 days.  

Between July 2022 and July 2023, there was only one month when 75% of urgent suspected breast cancer referrals had their cancer confirmed within 28 days. https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2023/09/FDS-suspected-breast-cancer-and-breast-symptoms-by-referral-route.xlsx    

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