Written by

Peter Daly - Solicitor

In 2022/2023 there is suspected to be the worst cancer waiting times recorded for over 12 years. In quarter two of 2022/2023, only 61.3% of patients are expected to begin their treatment within the 62 day period that the NHS sets out, meaning 38.7% of people will likely wait longer than 62 days to receive their treatment after receiving an urgent referral for suspected cancer. 

When it comes to waiting times for cancer, it can be very severe as receiving a cancer diagnosis earlier can lead to faster treatment, a lower risk of complications and improved cancer outcomes. 


Current target wait times in the UK

According to the NHS, the following target timescales have been set out for diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the UK:

  • There is a maximum of a two-week (14 days) wait to see a specialist for all patients that have been referred by a GP.
  • There is a maximum of 28 days to communicate whether or not the patient has cancer or not for patients who have been referred urgently.
  • There is a maximum of a two-month (62 days) wait to receive the first treatment from an urgent GP referral. 
  • There is a maximum of a one-month (31 days) wait from a decision to treat to starting the cancer treatment for all patients, all cancer patients need to begin treatment quickly after the decision to treat has been made. 

100% achievement is not expected for these timescales and the operational standards specify a measure of what percentage should be achieved in these time frames. 


Statistics on Waiting Times for Cancer Patients


All cancer two week wait:

In the UK, a patient should wait no longer than two weeks to see a specialist after being referred with suspected cancer, the operational standard specifies that 93% of patients should be seen within this time. The below graph shows the trend of reported performance over time. In 2022/2023 Q2, 745,803 patients were seen by specialists after an urgent referral for suspected cancer, 75.3% of these patients were seen within two weeks.

Source: NHS


Two month urgent referral first treatment wait:

Patients that have been urgently referred for suspected cancer should receive treatment within 62 days after this referral and the operational standard specifies that the measure for this is 85%. In the graph below, you can see the trend in reported performance over time of the amount of patients that received their first treatment within 62 days of the urgent referral.

Source: NHS


One Month diagnosis to first treatment wait:

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, patients should start their first treatment within one month, the time from which this starts is when the patient has been informed of their diagnoses and they have agreed their package of care. The operational standard specifies that the measure for this is 96%. The graph below shows the trend in reported performance for patients receiving their first treatment within 31 days.

As you can see in the above graphs, the results in all three graphs have decreased since 2009, showing that the wait times for cancer have gotten progressively worse over the years with all three graphs showing the worst results in 2022. 


Covid-19 Pandemic Effects

The Covid-19 pandemic increased the burden on the NHS and resulted in a lower compliance of targets set by the NHS amongst urgent referrals. It is likely that this has resulted in an ongoing issue due to the backlog of patients that are waiting for diagnosis and treatments. 

During the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS said that cancer treatment should be unaffected, however, one third of cancer patients said that coronavirus has impacted their treatment, with hundreds of thousands of people experiencing cancellations, delays and changes to their treatment all across the UK. Approximately 70% of people who had delays or cancellations to their cancer testing and treatment said that they felt more frustrated and anxious. 


NHS Long Term Plan

The NHS are continuing to expand their Long Term Plan in order to transform cancer care and improve the quality of life outcomes. One in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and the NHS are aiming to save thousands more lives every year by improving how they diagnose and treat cancer. 

They have set out goals so that by 2028:  

  • 55,000 extra people will survive cancer each year for 5 or more years following their cancer diagnosis 
  • Three in four cancers (75%) will be diagnosed at an early stage (stage 1 or 2)

They want to introduce a faster diagnosis standard so that patients receive a definitive diagnosis of cancer within 28 days so that they can either be assured that they do not have cancer or get the treatment that they need quickly. Early diagnosis is critical for the NHS to meet their survival ambition because an early diagnosis means that patients can receive treatment quicker and there will be a better chance of achieving a complete cure. 



From reviewing the above statistics, it is clear to see that even though the NHS are planning to reduce cancer waiting times, they are failing to hit their targets, meaning there are thousands of patients every year not being diagnosed and treated within the NHS’ target time frame. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is never good, but early diagnosis and treatment is much better for the patient’s outcome. If you have any symptoms of cancer, it is extremely important that you seek a medical opinion so that you can get a diagnosis as soon as possible. 

If you have experienced any delays, cancellations or any other concerns regarding your cancer diagnosis or treatment then contact Patient Claim Line and our medical negligence experts can help you through the cancer negligence claims process.


If you have been affected as a result of negligence relating to your breast cancer treatment at Barking Havering and Redbridge University Trust, our expert team is here to help.

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