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Return cancer test results within 10 days, NHS England tells hospitals

NHS England has tasked hospitals with turning around diagnostic test results for suspected cancer within 10 days.

Hundreds of patients who have been referred under the urgent pathway will receive faster news about whether they have cancer or not helping to reduce anxiety and start treatment more quickly, NHS England said.

A letter sent to local health leaders has also asked teams to prioritise diagnostic tests like MRI scans for cancer in community diagnostic centres (CDCs) or to free up capacity within hospitals by moving elective activity into the centres. 

Earlier this month, figures showed more than 42% of patients are waiting more than 62 days for their first cancer treatment from urgent GP referral.

Worst ever cancer waiting times

It follows a report from the Public Accounts Committee in March which warned that cancer waiting times are at their worst ever level and NHS England was unlikely to meet its recovery target of moving back to 85% treated within 62 days of referral.

But the latest figures did show some improvement in two week wait times from the previous month with 86% of people seen by a specialist within a fortnight of urgent referral up from 81%.

In February, NHS England said it achieved the faster diagnosis standard for suspected cancer for the first time, with three quarters of those referred receiving a definitive diagnosis or all clear within 28 days – 171,453 people.

There has been high demand for services with up to one in four GP referrals a month for cancer.

In March 2022 to Feb 2023, 470,000 more people were checked for cancer compared with the same period before the pandemic, the figures show.

There are now 105 CDCs in place and offering a ‘one stop shop’ for tests, NHS England confirmed.

‘Significant progress’

Dame Cally Palmer, NHS national director for cancer, said: ‘It is a testament to the hard work of NHS staff that we are seeing and treating record numbers of patients for cancer, and have made significant progress bringing down the backlog and achieving the target for diagnosing three quarters of people within 28 days – all despite huge demand and pressures on the system.

‘Fortunately, the vast majority of suspected cancer patients waiting for a diagnostic test will not have cancer, but for those waiting it can be a very anxious time, so we are asking trusts to aim for a 10-day turnaround time between GP referral and tests results for patients – so we can get people the all-clear faster, or in some cases ensure patients diagnosed with cancer are able to start treatment sooner.’

Professor Mike Osborn, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, said‘We welcome the announcement of support for pathology services which will help our members provide the quicker diagnoses that patients need.

‘Pathologists have long asked for improvements in digital pathology and infrastructure to help them provide better patient care. We fully support this initiative and the fresh focus on pathology which it should provide will, we hope, make a real difference to patients.’

This news story was originally published by our sister publication Pulse.

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