NHS Cancer Patient undergoing CT Scan
HealthplanWaiting For A Cancer Diagonosis?

Waiting For A Cancer Diagonosis?

This article explores how important it is for the Government and NHS England to revise their out-of-date cancer programme. Waiting for a cancer diagnosis on the NHS to ensure thousands of people with suspected cancer receive a faster diagnosis and timely treatment to avoid further complications or worse fatality.

NHS Cancer Targets

The Government has confirmed they will scrap two-thirds of cancer set procedures by October 2023. The change of 10 cancer targets to 3 has been presented as a way to provide faster test results and treatment for urgent, referred cancer patients.

Waiting for consultation appointments and cancer test results causes immense anxiety for the patient and their family. An updated NHS cancer healthcare plan is overdue; implementing new targets hopes to assure patients of quicker diagnosis results and starting their treatment sooner.

Why has the Government said it is making changes to the NHS cancer diagnosis targets?

NHS England reported in August 2023 that 261,006 critical cancer patients were referred in June 2023, an increase of 13% from the previous year in June 2022.

On the current referral programme, only 80% of patients were seen by a consultant within 2 weeks, instead of the recommended target of 93%. Prompt appointments to see a consultant, receive test results, and start treatment are crucial, but NHS England confirmed that the two-week waiting guidelines could not be met for some patients.

The plans for the Faster Diagnosis Standard programme were introduced in April 2021, but the Government has debated this programme for over a year. Medical Professionals and Charities have been campaigning for the Government to make the changes sooner rather than later.

NHS England’s new proposal is to scrap seeing an Oncologist or cancer specialist within 2-weeks and replace it with the following 3 Faster Diagnosis plans.

  • Under the 28-day Faster Diagnosis Standard, patients referred by the GP should receive the diagnosis within 28 days.
  • The 62-day referral to treatment plan ensures cancer patients start treatment within two months.
  • The 31-day decision-to-treat plan ensures cancer patients receive their first treatment within a month of the decision to treat.

The new proposal plan aims to provide 75% of referred patients with their diagnosis within 28 days and speed up the treatment programme. With these changes, NHS England expects a higher survival rate in the long term and predicts 55,000 more people will survive cancer for five years or longer by 2028.

Is the Government just moving the goalposts?

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the importance of cancer targets was “survivability,” and those rates had been improving. However, Oncologist Professor Pat Price, the head of the Radiotherapy UK Charity is worried about the changes and wants the 28 day diagnosis target increased from 75% to 95%.

“The current targets are shockingly bad and have been deteriorating over the years…The clear and simple truth is that we are not investing enough in cancer treatment capacity and getting the whole cancer pathway working.” Profesor Pat Price – Radiotherapy UK

Commenting in an article for the Guardian, Thalie Martini, chief executive of Breast Cancer UK, said “The government does not have a handle on cancer, from prevention to diagnosis and treatment.”

“Not only are the government failing those with cancer, but by not having a detailed and comprehensive cancer strategy, they are also letting down every future patient.” Thalie Martini, chief executive of Breast Cancer UK

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, a kidney cancer survivor, states, “Patients are left waiting dangerously long for diagnosis and treatment,” which means that for some, “their treatment won’t start until it’s too late.”

What do Cancer Research UK say?

Cancer Research UK stated the new targets should improve diagnosis and reported that 4,200 additional patients would have started their treatment should the 62-day referral to treatment targets have been met.

It reported that since the 1980s, 1.2 million lives have been saved due to research, awareness, new medications, early detection, and prompt treatment. Cancer death rates have reduced by 25% since the 80s, and if we continue in this positive direction, we can consider cancer a “fixable disease.”

However, despite there being improvements over the past 40 years, Cancer Research UK projects the number of new cases is expected to rise every year from approximately 420,000 cases in 2023-2025 to about 506,000 cases in 2038-2040; this is a 2% rise of 625 people per 100,000.

Waiting for cancer treatment on the NHS

An increasing number of people in the UK have experienced cancer in one way or another, whether it is a personal diagnosis or a loved one. The shock and fear of being tested for cancer are overwhelming, but waiting for the results and treatment is agonising.

Giles from Salisbury waited over 3 months for his cancer test results to be verified and start his NHS therapy. Giles said, “It feels like your life is put on hold when you have to wait for the cancer test results. But every day, I had to focus on being positive to get through this.”

The Long-Term Workforce Plan needs to work because it is the outcome that matters for thousands of people living with cancer.

People diagnosed with cancer do not want to be recognised as a number or percentage on a Government database but need to feel confident they will be treated with the utmost urgency.

The NHS England had an excellent worldwide reputation but has declined dramatically over the years due to a lack of government support and failure to meet targets.

The Costs of Cancer

Many people do not realise the potential cost of self-funding private cancer treatment. While paying for private therapy can cost as little as £2,300 – £2,500 for average melanoma treatment, Chemotherapy could cost in the region of £30,000 per session, and breast or prostate cancer treatment can run into tens of thousands. Should you require the high-energy Proton Beam therapy, this could set you back £70,000 per course.

Healthplan is one of the UK’s leading health insurance brokers, and by understanding individual people’s needs, advises customers on suitable private medical insurance plans. While cancer patients endure a physical and emotional journey, Healthplan’s dedicated team is passionate about ensuring customers have a policy that will provide comprehensive cancer cover to help provide the care, treatments, and drugs unavailable on the NHS.

Individual customers of Healthplan who have survived cancer have seen their insurance policies paying out claims of up to £700,000 to cover the costs of diagnosis, therapies, treatments, and palliative and end-of-life care during the most challenging time of their lives.

How can Private Medical Insurance help if I am diagnosed with cancer?

An estimated 1 in 2 people in the UK will have a critical illness, like cancer, before the age of 65 years. Private Medical Insurance can help provide a comprehensive level of cancer cover.

Private medical insurance will help to reduce the time it takes to see consultants/ specialists and start treatments rather than the long NHS waiting time.

A choice of medical specialists. Depending on individual requirements, private insurance may offer the option to choose the specialist of your choice.

Receive guidance through every stage of therapy, from diagnosis, scans, and chemotherapy/ radiotherapy to palliative/end-of-life care.

Patients can discuss having Chemotherapy in the comfort of their own home.

Policyholders may be entitled to innovative treatments and experimental and approved drugs unavailable on the NHS—for example, CAR-T therapy, the immunotherapy treatment that genetically modifies T blood cells in a laboratory to assist with fighting cancer. (This would cost approximately £400,000 should a patient pay privately).

Comfort and privacy are important factors for patients undergoing hospital treatment. Private medical insurance considers this and may provide private wards and rooms with additional amenities.

With private insurance, you will be treated as an individual with the option of personalised treatment plans to suit your needs.

You and your family will receive mental and emotional support throughout the difficult times.

We cannot predict the future or when we may need healthcare assistance. However, we know that cancer awareness and early detection mean a higher survival rate. Private medical insurance guarantees quicker screening and treatment than waiting on the NHS.


NHS England had an excellent worldwide reputation but this has declined dramatically over the years due to a lack of government support and failure to meet targets. A significant issue of the current NHS England waiting lists for cancer care has been a lack of funding, the pandemic backlog, and staff shortages.

In June 2023, an additional £2.4bn was funded for the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to assist with recruiting and training staff. However, with the rising number of cancer patients, these funds must be consistent to keep up with the ongoing cost needed to recruit additional Oncologists, retain staff, awareness campaigns, and upgrade cancer equipment.

Only time will tell if NHS England’s new plan of dropping the 2-week waiting target works. Unfortunately, for so many patients time is a luxury that they do not have.

Private medical insurance provides personal support every step of the way, from prompt consultant appointments to treatment. Consider the benefits mentioned above of private medical insurance to ensure everyone in your family or business has a better chance of winning the fight against cancer and taking control of their future.

September 18, 2023