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We respond to new NHS waiting times for suspected brain cancer

NHS data shows waiting time targets for suspected brain cancer in England were missed for the fifth time in last six months.

The NHS in England has a number of different cancer waiting time targets, one of which assesses the proportion of people referred with suspected cancer by their GP, who are seen by a specialist within two weeks. The operational standard for this target is that 93% of people should be seen within two weeks.

Unfortunately, new NHS statistics – published last week – show that in May (2022), the national target for 93% of people referred for investigation with suspected brain tumour to be seen within two weeks was missed for the third month in a row – with 92.17% of people referred being seen within two weeks. Despite the target not being met once more, this does represent a slight improvement on April’s figures, when just 89.07% of patients were seen within two weeks, which was the worst on recent record. In total, there were 817 urgent referrals for suspected brain/CNS cancer in May.

The new Faster Diagnosis Standard (75% of patients to be told by a specialist within 28 days whether they have cancer or whether cancer has been definitively excluded), which has been proposed to replace the ‘two week wait’, was also missed for brain/CNS cancer – with only 73.11% of people receiving a diagnostic outcome within 28 days of their urgent referral.

For cancer overall, the two week wait target (93%) for all cancers combined was not met, with just 83.23% of patients being seen within two weeks – an increase from 79.1% in April 2022. The worst performance to the two-week wait standard was seen in breast cancer and acute leukaemia, with just 74.3% of people with suspected breast cancer, and 76.5% of people with suspected acute leukaemia, seeing a specialist within two weeks.

Graham Norton, Interim CEO at The Brain Tumour Charity, said:

“It’s really concerning to see that, despite the incredible work of so many NHS staff, the target for those referred with suspected brain cancer to be seen within two weeks has been missed for five out of the last six months, as the pressures on the NHS continue.

“It is so important that people with worrying symptoms who are referred with a suspected brain tumour are seen within the two-week timeframe, so that they can either have a brain tumour ruled out or begin treatment and get the support they need as quickly as possible. We know that any delays in this process can be distressing, at what will be an already worrying time.

“That’s why we’re calling for the Government’s new 10-year Cancer Plan to ensure sufficient planning and investment to grow the NHS cancer workforce and help increase capacity of these services to meet the growing demand.

“While waiting times may be slightly longer than usual, it’s absolutely vital that anyone with symptoms they are worried about, and particularly if persistent or if they are experiencing a combination of common symptoms, comes forward to get checked out by their GP – to help rule a brain tumour out. Our new campaign, Better Safe Than Tumour, aims to support more people to be aware of common signs and symptoms of brain tumours in children and adults.

“Anyone concerned can speak to us on 0808 800 0004 or find out more about the possible signs and symptoms at headsmart.org.uk. We’re here for you.”