Modernising cancer waiting times standards: Information for healthcare professionals

From 1 October, the standards measuring waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment are being modernised and simplified.

The NHS is moving from the 10 different standards in place now to three:

  • Faster Diagnosis Standard: a diagnosis or ruling out of cancer within 28 days of referral (set at 75%)
  • 31-day treatment standard: commence treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat for all cancer patients (set at 96%)
  • 62-day treatment standard: commence treatment within 62 days of being referred or consultant upgrade (set at 85%)

The main changes are:

  • Removal of the Two Week Wait standard requiring a first appointment within two weeks
  • Combining together the first and subsequent treatment 31-day standards to create one headline performance standard.
  • Combining together the Urgent Suspected Cancer GP referral, Urgent Screening and Consultant Upgrade 62-day standards to create one headline performance standard for all patients.

NB: there is no change to the way GPs refer patients onto Urgent Suspected Cancer pathways – the only change is that the NHS will measure how well it is dealing with those referrals by looking at speed of actual diagnosis, not whether the patient has a first appointment within a fortnight. 

More information for GPs is available on our webpage.

The data submitted by providers will not change, and until the language in the Cancer Waiting Times dataset is updated, expected to be in 2024/25, GPs and providers should still use the “Priority type – Two Week Wait” data item to record performance against this pathway.

Providers must make sure that the copy in letters generated by the Electronic Referral Service (e-RS) to patients when they are referred onto urgent suspected cancer pathways is updated as necessary.

This follows a consultation in 2022 where these recommendations received widespread backing from cancer specialists and patients.

The new standards aim to encourage innovations like straight-to-test pathways, remote image review, use of AI and one-stop-shop clinics, and to ensure that patients receive equal focus and priority regardless of their point of entry to the pathway, whether GP referral, screening, or consultant upgrade. They focus on outcomes and incentivising the completion of pathways rather than process measures.

Cancer Waiting Time statistics will continue to be published monthly by NHS England, who will take this opportunity to improve the granularity of the statistics by cancer type. These improved monthly publications will begin in December this year, reporting on October statistics (as now, CWT monthly stats will continue to be two months in arrears).

The target for meeting the Faster Diagnosis Target will be gradually increased, from 75% now to 80% by 2026 and trusts have been asked to now prioritise improving performance against the new over-arching 62-day standard, with an interim target of 70% by March 2024 put in place.

The image is of Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England. He says "These modernised standards focus on outcomes rather than processes - they will help us get patients diagnosed and starting treatment faster"

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS National Clinical 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 diagnosing people at an earlier stage than ever before, giving them the best chance of survival.

“On top of delivering record checks and treatments, staff have also made significant progress bringing down the longest waits, but we want to ensure even more patients are being diagnosed and treated as early as possible following referral.

“These modified standards will provide a clear focus for how to achieve this, and the faster diagnosis standard already being used across the country will mean more patients will benefit from a speedier diagnosis or the all clear within a month, helping to relieve anxieties or enabling treatment to start sooner.

“Catching cancers early saves live and these three standards have been agreed by leading cancer experts, with the support of cancer charities and clinicians, as the best way for the NHS to ensure patients are diagnosed and able to start treatment quickly.”

Where to access more information

More information is available on the NHS website.

You can also read more information in the Frequently Asked Questions

You can also download a one page summary of the changes

More information for GPs is available on our webpage.