A new target was introduced in England last autumn, for 75 per cent of all those with an urgent referral to receive either a diagnosis or the all-clear within 28 days.
Some 65,400 people are waiting too long every month, analysis by Cancer Research UK suggests, with a large postcode lottery at play as nearly half of all hospital trusts fail to meet this standard.
People and patients are being “failed by the system”, Cancer Research UK has said, which lacks the capacity to deal with the large numbers needing to be seen.
Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive, said: “As a country we should not be willing to accept that over one in four people on an urgent referral are left waiting over a month to find out whether they have cancer.”
The charity said that due to chronic shortages of specialists, the target was also set too low.
Experts say the Government must be ambitious in its upcoming 10-year cancer plan if it wants to improve diagnosis and survival, raising targets to 95 per cent.
Ms Mitchell added: “The Government must take this opportunity to deliver for the millions of people affected by cancer. With ambitious targets, a credible plan to reach them and clear accountability, we can get there.”
Meeting targets set at around 95 per cent would see around 54,300 more people each month receiving a diagnosis or having cancer ruled out within 28 days, Cancer Research UK said.
Early diagnosis of cancer allows treatment to start quicker and is more likely to be successful, but England lags behind comparable countries.
Prof Charles Swanton, the charity’s chief clinician, said it was crucial that more people receive an “all-important” timely diagnosis.
He said: “With a robust plan and sustained investment to build a cancer workforce fit for the future, we could diagnose people quicker and earlier, and save more lives.”
A spokesperson from NHS England said: “Record numbers of people have received lifesaving cancer checks in the last year as we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic, and while it won’t happen overnight, the NHS is investing billions in extra diagnostic and treatment capacity - with staff working hard to roll out initiatives from lung scanning trucks to cancer symptom hotlines, so that patients are seen quickly and their cancer can be caught earlier.”
A spokesperson for the Government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “We are committed to reducing waiting times for cancer patients which is why we are rolling out up to 160 community diagnostic centres across the country - with 81 already open and over 800,000 additional scans delivered.
“Our record investment in the NHS includes an extra £2bn last year and £8bn over the next three years to cut waiting times, including delivering an extra nine million checks, scans and operations by 2025 as part of plans to tackle the Covid backlog and deliver long term recovery and reform,” they added.
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