NHS Unveils Revamped Standards for Cancer Care

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London (Parliament Politic Magazine) – The NHS is implementing changes to its cancer standards to improve the diagnosis and treatment process for thousands of individuals undergoing urgent cancer checks each month. These reforms are designed to better align with patients’ priorities and contemporary clinical practices.

Crafted by clinical experts in collaboration with prominent cancer charities, these new standards amalgamate the previous benchmarks and extend coverage to a wider range of patients.

NHS Operates With Ten Performance Standards For Cancer 

Presently, the NHS operates with ten performance standards for cancer, including the Faster Diagnosis Standard introduced in April 2021. However, following meticulous consultation and engagement, the government has decided to consolidate these objectives into three principal standards:

28-Day Faster Diagnosis Standard (FDS): This entails ensuring that individuals with suspected cancer who are referred for urgent checks from GPs, screening programs, or other channels should receive a diagnosis or have cancer ruled out within 28 days.

62-Day Referral to Treatment Standard: This standard stipulates that patients referred for suspected cancer from any source, and subsequently diagnosed, should commence treatment within 62 days of referral.

31-Day Decision to Treat to Treatment Standard: Patients who have received a cancer diagnosis and have had treatment decisions made, whether for their first or subsequent treatment, should commence that treatment within 31 days.

Outdated Two Week Wait To Be Replaced By Faster Diagnosis

As per the recommendation of the 2015 Independent Cancer Taskforce, the outdated two-week wait target will be replaced by the Faster Diagnosis Standard starting from October.

While GPs will continue to refer individuals with suspected cancer in the same manner, the focus will shift towards ensuring diagnoses are made or cancer is ruled out within 28 days, rather than merely securing a first appointment.

In the past year, over two million patients suspected of having cancer were either diagnosed or received confirmation of being cancer-free within the 28-day window.

This Faster Diagnosis Standard permits NHS services to embrace innovative technologies and methods for diagnosing and treating patients. It endorses novel testing approaches where patients under suspicion of cancer may not necessarily require an initial appointment. 

These could include direct-to-test pathways, remote consultations, and technological advancements like leveraging artificial intelligence and teledermatology to swiftly diagnose skin cancers through photographs.

These three standardized measures, set to take effect from October, have been singled out as the most effective means of ensuring patients receive swift attention and care. They provide NHS trusts with a clear focal point for delivering crucial healthcare services.

NHS Outlining Roadmap To Improve Performance Levels 

In conjunction with the revised benchmarks, the NHS is outlining a roadmap for regaining performance levels and attaining these care standards. A significant emphasis is being placed on ensuring that individuals receive treatment within 62 days of being referred, along with more ambitious goals for meeting the 28-day quicker diagnosis standards in the next two years.

The NHS has achieved notable progress in reducing the count of patients experiencing extended wait times for treatment or cancer exclusion, with a reduction of 13,000 patients since the prior summer (presently at 21,000 compared to 33,950 on September 19, 2022).

With the substantial reduction of the COVID-related backlog and the NHS being on course to further decrease it, attention is now directed towards increasing the number of patients commencing treatment within the 62-day timeframe.

NHS providers are also anticipated to ensure that 75% of patients receive a diagnosis or have cancer ruled out within 28 days of referral, and a more rigorous goal of 80% will be introduced in the fiscal year 2025/26.

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Cancer Related Services To Be Accomodated By NHS 

To accommodate the escalating demand for cancer-related services, the NHS is dedicating £2.3 billion for the expansion of diagnostic services and an additional £1.5 billion for treatment over the forthcoming years.

Local NHS services have expanded their diagnostic capacities by introducing comprehensive testing facilities, mobile clinics, accelerated implementation of ‘teledermatology’ services, and establishing cancer symptom hotlines. These initiatives aim to guarantee early diagnosis and treatment, enhancing the prospects of successfully combatting the disease.

Starting from 2021, NHS England has introduced over 100 community diagnostic centers (CDCs) across the country to facilitate more scans, assessments, and medical procedures promptly. Recent data reveals that CDCs have conducted over four million extra checks for cancer and other significant illnesses.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.