The number of targets, which have routinely been missed, have been cut from nine to three in a move some experts claim will help improve early diagnosis. It is claimed this is due to the simplification of outdated standards, while other disagree, such as the charity Radiotherapy UK.
NHS leaders are said to be very keen on the move, which was confirmed on Thursday.
The three targets are set to be kept are:
- diagnosis of cancer within 28 days of referral
- starting treatment within two months of an urgent referral
- starting treatment one month after a decision to treat.
Targets which are to be dropped are the two-week wait for a first consultant appointment.
NHSE have stated that the scrapping of targets would enable more patients to be referred “straight to test” and increase the wider use of diagnostic technologies, including AI.
Health Minister Will Quince has claimed that the targets will not be scrapped but instead integrated into the existing three and will lead to faster diagnoses.
The two-week wait target is to be replaced by the Faster Diagnostic Standard. The aim is for 75% of patients to be told within 28 days of referral whether or not they have cancer, reducing anxiety for patients and speeding up treatment pathways. However, despite being introduced almost 18 months ago, this target has never been met.
The new targets for NHS England cancer care are as follows:
- The 28-day Faster Diagnosis Standard, under which patients with suspected cancer referred by a GP should be diagnosed within 28 days;
- The 62-day referral to treatment to ensure patients who have been referred and diagnosed should start treatment within that time frame;
- The 31-day decision to treat – this means patients with a cancer diagnosis should have a decision made on their first or subsequent treatment and should start it within 31 days.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national NHS medical director, said: “The NHS is already catching more cancers at an earlier stage, when they are easier to treat than ever before and the Faster Diagnosis Standard will allow us to build on this excellent progress.
“The updated ambitions will mean the NHS can be even more focused on outcomes for patients, rather than just appointment times, and it’s yet another example of the NHS bringing cancer care into the modern era of care.”