NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Waiting Times For Cancer Treatment In England

March 24, 2000

Cancer survival rates in England and Wales are generally lower than in Europe, which in turn are lower than rates in the United States. The differences between England and Wales and the rest of Western Europe in survival rates for colon cancer and female breast cancer arise primarily in the first six months after diagnosis, suggesting that these differences may relate to later diagnosis or delays in treatment for British patients.

In order to investigate the delays that British cancer patients face, researchers undertook a retrospective survey of patients with newly diagnosed cases of cancer in October 1997. The study examined waiting times from general practitioner referral to first outpatient appointment with a specialist and from referral to first definitive treatment for 10 types of cancer.

  • Excluding referrals not by general practitioner, they found that waiting times for urgent appointments were significantly less than the waiting times for non-urgent appointments.
  • Among cases considered urgent, the median waiting time to from referral to treatment varied from as little as 21 days for ovarian cancer to 57 days for bladder cancer.
  • And for 90 percent of urgent cases to begin treatment took two months (64 days) for ovarian cancer to four months (124 days) for bladder cancer.

The National Health Service has been asked to set a target of two weeks from referral by a general practitioner to first hospital outpatient appointment for all suspected cases of cancer -- or 50 percent less time than the most urgent cases wait. The assumption is that reduced waiting times will lead to more rapid diagnosis, earlier instigation of care and reduced psychological morbidity.

Source: Peter Spurgeon, Fred Barwell and David Kerr, "Waiting Times For Cancer Patients In England After General Practitioners' Referrals: Retrospective National Survey," British Medical Journal, March 25, 2000.

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