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What do we know about brain tumour waiting times in 2023: six months in

We explore NHS England data to find out what it means for brain tumour waiting times in the first six months of 2023.

NHS workers walk down a hospital corridor, blurred behind the NHS logo

Today, NHS England published waiting time data for June 2023. So, what has happened in the first half of 2023 and what does it mean for the brain tumour community? 

Why does NHS England release waiting time data?

NHS England publishes monthly data on cancer waiting times as a key indicator of performance. This includes whether local systems are meeting targets for faster diagnosis and getting patients access to treatment quickly. The NHS is expected to meet certain standards to keep waiting times as short as possible. NHS England measures cancer waiting times against nine operational standards. We can look more closely at two of the standards where data on high grade (cancerous) brain/central nervous system tumours are included:

  • The Two-Week Wait. At least 93% of patients who have concerning symptoms, and have had an urgent cancer referral, should be seen by a specialist within 14 days.
  • The Faster Diagnosis Standard. At least 75% of patients who have concerning symptoms should receive a cancer diagnosis or have it ruled out within 28 days of having an urgent GP referral.

What do we know about brain tumour waiting times in 2023 so far?

75.68% of people with a suspected brain tumour received their diagnosis outcome within 28 days of referral (data for June 2023)

For the fifth time in a row this year, the faster diagnosis standard for brain tumours has been met. This means that since February 2023, more than 75% of patients who presented with worrying symptoms received an outcome (either a brain tumour diagnosis or having it ruled out) within 28 days of their GP sending them for a referral.

Across 20 cancer groups included in the June 2023 data, brain tumours are one of eight that met the target  

86.88% of patients were seen by a specialist within two weeks of a brain tumour referral (data for June 2023)

The Two-Week Wait target of 93% was missed for the sixth consecutive month this year for patients with brain tumours. This is the lowest it’s been in 2023.

This is the picture for other cancer types too. The last time the Two-Week Wait target of 93% was met was in May 2020.

However, meeting these targets does not reflect everyone’s experience of getting a diagnosis

Despite hitting the national target, 249 people in June were left waiting more than a month to receive either a brain tumour diagnosis or an all clear outcome. It’s so important, given the fast-growing nature of some brain cancers, that patients receive a timely diagnosis. This can help prevent any undue worry and help them have the shortest wait to begin treatment and receive support.

We also know that the Faster Diagnosis Standard doesn’t reveal the full picture of people getting a brain tumour diagnosis. For many of the community who have concerning brain tumour symptoms, there are barriers to getting a referral in the first place. For example, almost a quarter (24%) of respondents to our Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys visited their GP more than three times for their symptoms before getting a diagnosis.

While the Faster Diagnosis Standard reveals some insight into experience, it does not cover all routes to diagnosis. This is particularly important when measuring performance for cancers that have a large number of diagnoses made outside of standard cancer pathways in primary care. A high proportion (38.9%) of brain tumour diagnoses are made in A&E, compared to 18.5% for all cancers.

For cancers like brain tumours, these cancer pathways are just not working! This is partly why so few people are diagnosed with brain tumours through these routes compared to emergency diagnoses. We need rapid action taken to improve diagnostic pathways for people with brain tumours. This is something we’ve highlighted in our Fighting for Faster Diagnosis report.

Leaving patients waiting can cause lots of unnecessary anxiety. This also often causes delays in accessing support services and treatments that are desperately needed.

How can this be improved?

These waiting time results come at a time when we know that NHS staff are stretched and working tirelessly to meet increasing demand.

Last month, NHS England published a long-term plan to train, retain and reform its workforce. This key to getting people the support they need and ensure it’s fit for the future. It’s promising to hear there are plans in place for increased capacity for allied health professionals, including radiographers. These allied health professionals are essential for ensuring patients are getting a fast diagnosis.

In the meantime, however, as part of our campaign work following our Fighting for Faster Diagnosis report, we are calling for NHS England to ensure:

  • the fast and consistent roll-out of the promised scheme that all GPs will be able to directly order diagnostic tests, such as CT or MRI scans
  • brain tumours are next in line for developing a Best Practice Timed Pathway in England
  • brain tumour symptoms are prioritised in the planned expansion of the Non-Specific Symptoms (NSS) pathways
  • a recommended optometry pathway is developed to ensure those presenting with optical symptoms are not left out.

Join our campaigns network and create change

Interested in sharing your experience of being affected by a brain tumour? Become one of our campaigners today!

By taking part in our engagement work, you’ll help us create the change needed to raise awareness of brain tumour symptoms and achieve faster diagnosis.