Half of women with suspected breast cancer are waiting more than the two-week target to see a specialist after being urgently referred by a GP, figures show.

Patients who are still waiting for their appointments have quadrupled in two months. They went from 5280 patients in September to 23704 in November. This is the most recent month of data.

It means 48.2 per cent were not seen as quickly as they should have been – up from 12.5 per cent over the same two-month period.

All targets regarding cancer waiting time are not met, however breast cancer fared worse than all other types. 

For suspected skin cancer, the longest wait for a specialist can be up to 14 days.

Charities described the figures as ‘highly alarming’ and warned delays cause anxiety and reduce survival odds.

Half of women with suspected breast cancer are waiting more than the two-week target to see a specialist after being urgently referred by a GP, figures show

According to figures, half of those with breast cancer suspects are still waiting longer than the 2-week deadline for a specialist appointment after they were referred urgently by a GP. 

This is likely to be caused by an increase in patient submissions after lockdown and pandemic disruption. The waits will only get worse, before getting better.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, yesterday [TUE] asked ministers if they had ‘deprioritised’ breast cancer after highlighting the NHS England figures in the Commons.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, replied: ‘Of course it hasn’t been deprioritised and no cancer has been deprioritised.

‘We have seen… because of this terrible pandemic an impact on healthcare across the country, including sadly on cancer care as well.’

Mr Javid said all types of cancer care ‘remain a priority’ and revealed he wants to launch a ‘war on cancer’ in an attempt to radically improve care for patients.

He said he is working on a ‘new vision’ to improve the ‘persistently poor outcomes’ experienced by people in the UK.

Mr Streeting, who has been treated for kidney cancer, later added: ‘I know from experience that an early cancer diagnosis can be lifesaving.

‘Under the Conservatives, thousands of patients with suspected breast cancer are left waiting for weeks on end with the insecurity of not knowing.

‘Yet the Health Secretary can’t explain why breast cancer care is falling behind other forms of cancer, nor does the Government have a plan to fix it.’

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘It’s highly alarming that the most recent data shows record numbers of women with potential breast cancer symptoms are not being seen by a specialist within two weeks of referral.

‘We know that longer waits can cause many women unimaginable distress and anxiety.

‘It’s deeply troubling to see performance against the two week wait for breast cancer referrals specifically drop so sharply; this decline in performance is five times that of the average performance across all cancers.’

She added: ‘The Government must set out how they will address the influx in demand for breast cancer services to prevent further deterioration in performance.’

Minesh Patel, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘We have been sounding the alarm, loud and clear, about the desperately worrying state of cancer services for years.

‘Chronic staffing shortages are already having a devastating impact on cancer patients and we know that nearly 50,000 people are still missing a cancer diagnosis in the UK because of the disruption caused by Covid-19.

‘Whilst it is a relief to hear the Secretary of State’s acknowledgement that urgent action is needed, his plans will fail without a plan to invest in frontline staff caring for patients.’

Professor Pat Price, an oncologist and co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, said: ‘If the Health Secretary wants to fight a “war on cancer” then he needs to invest in the tools and the people to win it.

‘Warm words won’t solve the cancer crisis, nor will they clear the backlog and save lives.

‘We need to put money behind our cancer services, the workforce and stop overlooking high potential technologies like radiotherapy.

‘Unless the Secretary of State is willing to do things differently the backlog will cost more lives and the UK will remain at the bottom of the cancer league tables.’