Hospitals said they would return cancer test results within 10 days

Hospitals said they would return cancer test results within 10 days

Hospitals said they would return cancer test results within 10 days

1276580621 - Jasper Room/iStockphoto

1276580621 – Jasper Room/iStockphoto

Hospitals have been told to dramatically reduce waiting times for cancer diagnoses by returning test results within 10 days.

NHS England said hospitals must work towards a 10-day turnaround for patients who have been given an urgent referral for suspected cancer. It is understood that fewer than one in 10 NHS trusts currently meet this timeline.

Data will now be collected on a regular basis to check hospitals’ progress against the new target.

Data released earlier this month shows that there was an improvement in the proportion of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer who were then diagnosed or cancer ruled out within 28 days.

Three-quarters of patients were either diagnosed or had their cancer ruled out in that time frame in February, the first time the goal has been met.

NHS England have written to local NHS teams stressing the importance of seeing patients with suspected cancer first.

Hospitals have also been asked to prioritize diagnostic tests such as MRI scans for cancer in community diagnostic centers or to free up capacity for cancer testing within hospitals.

Cancer Research UK welcomed the latest move but said more staff were urgently needed. Michelle Mitchell, its chief executive, said: “Detecting cancer early, when treatment is most likely to be successful, can save lives, so it’s encouraging to see NHS England’s efforts to expand diagnostic capacity and prioritize tests for people with suspected cancer.

“But the NHS is already severely understaffed and this will continue to be a huge barrier to providing timely treatment for people living with cancer.

“We urge the Government to deliver a fully funded workforce plan for England that increases the number of junior doctors and addresses staff retention. Without this, it will be difficult to significantly improve cancer survival in England.”

In a letter to NHS managers and hospitals, Vin Diwakar, medical director for secondary care at NHS England, Dame Cally Palmer, national cancer director, and Sir David Sloman, its chief operating officer, said: the suspected cancer will be a key priority for the NHS in the coming year”.

The letter stipulates that NHS trusts must meet the 10-day lead time by next March, with a “comprehensive performance improvement plan” for trusts that do not already meet the target.

Dame Cally said the vast majority of suspected cancer patients waiting for a test will not have cancer, but waiting can be a “very anxious time”.

“Lives are saved when cancers are detected early, and while we are already diagnosing a higher proportion of cancers at an earlier stage than ever before, we want to make sure we make the most of the diagnostic capacity in our community centers and hospitals,” he said .

Jane Lyons, chief executive of Cancer52, said: “When we know that record levels of people are being referred by their GPs for cancer testing, it’s great to see the NHS making clear that these patients must be prioritized.”

It comes after data released last month showed less than three per cent of NHS trusts were meeting a key cancer target.

Just 2.4% of hospitals treated 85% of patients within 62 days of an urgent referral in 2022. Some trusts have not met the target for at least eight years.

Some patients have been left waiting nearly two years for diagnosis and treatment, according to official data released under freedom of information laws.

In Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, a patient has been left waiting 671 days for diagnosis or for it to be resolved, according to figures released by the Labor party.

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