Ministers warn against “fiddling” with NHS cancer targets

The government has warned UK ministers against “fiddling around” with cancer treatment targets. Senior clinicians are “driving” the changes, according to the government.

The warning was issued as the Health Department announced 900 new NHS bed in the next few months and which hospitals will receive their share of the previously announced £250mn funding for urgent and Emergency Care.

The government began planning for winter this year earlier than ever. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that cutting waiting lists is “one of my five top priorities”.

He said: “The public should be assured that we will provide the NHS the resources they need.”

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary , hinted Monday that new targets are imminent. He acknowledged that the government has been “consulting” on changes.

He made his remarks after a report that seven cancer-waiting time targets were to be dropped within the next few days, leaving only three major pledges.

Barclay didn’t confirm any specific revisions, but he told BBC’s today program: “Any change will only be made if it is requested by cancer specialists and in consultation with leading cancer charities.”

Wes Streeting (shadow health secretary) accused the government of “cynically shifting the goalposts” when it missed existing targets.

Pat Price, visiting professor of oncology at Imperial College London, and co-founder the Catch Up with Cancer Campaign also criticized these proposals. She told the BBC, “Is this the best that the government and senior NHS officials can do in the middle of this crisis? To fiddle with targets?” She called the NHS’s cancer care performance “shockingly poor”.

She said she was “deeply concerned” because, “the simple and clear truth is that we do not invest enough in cancer treatment capacities”.

Since last year, a consultation on “a faster diagnosis standard” has been underway. This standard outlines a target of 28 days for patients who have urgent referrals in order to get a diagnosis.

NHS England will also continue to target patients with cancer to begin treatment within one month of a treatment plan being agreed.

The third target of starting treatment for patients diagnosed within nine weeks from the referral date (also known as the 62-day-standard) is expected to remain.

The two-week deadline for urgent referrals from a general practitioner to a cancer specialist and the maximum two-week wait time for patients with breast cancer to see a cancer specialist were among the goals that should be abandoned after some clinicians claimed they slowed down treatment.

Senior clinicians argue that the goal of a two-week waiting period, between a referral from a GP to a specialist appointment, does not include a time frame for when patients are expected to receive test results or diagnoses.

The consultation is expected to conclude this week.

Researchers found that the UK had a lower cancer survival rate than many other comparable countries.

Cancer Research UK (a charity) previously supported the proposed changes. They argued that they represented more meaningful goals.

The government announced on Tuesday that 30 NHS organisations in England will receive funding from an earlier investment, which was part of a plan to recover urgent and emergency care launched in January.

Miriam Deakin is the director of policy, strategy and planning at NHS Providers, which represents healthcare organisations. She said that trust leaders will be “very worried” if extra capacity is not in place by January.

Whitehall and health experts were sceptical about the government’s declaration of a “health-week”. Nick Davies, director of the Institute for Government, said that “the NHS faces enormous problems which cannot be solved in a single week.”