Cancer waiting time pilot system launched in Wales

Radiographer preparing a woman for a mammogram Ministers said the new measures have been developed by cancer clinicians

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A pilot project to monitor cancer treatment times will give a better picture of whether patients receive timely care, says the Welsh government.

But the Welsh Liberal Democrats accused the government of "moving the goal posts" while the Conservatives said it was "scrapping targets it can't meet".

Currently, two waiting time targets exist - a 62-day and 31-day target depending on how a cancer is found.

The aim will be to measure all cancer waiting times in the same way.

Ministers said the measures have been developed by cancer clinicians.

Analysis

Currently cancer care is measured against two targets - a 31-day and a 62-day time limit for treatment, depending on how the disease is discovered.

But senior doctors argue those measures don't tell the whole story. For example, they don't take into account the type of cancer or its severity - should it be be treated within weeks or even hours?

Also, there are claims the current system disproportionately prioritises patients because they're close to breaching the targets.

Its hoped, if successful patients will for the first time be able to compare typical waiting times across Wales for different types of cancer.

Dr Tom Crosby, clinical director of the South Wales Cancer Network, said the focus of the current "blunt instruments" of measuring 31-day and 62-day targets has "encouraged a focus on the few patients who breach the target rather than improving the whole patient pathway for all patients".

At the moment, if a patient is referred to a specialist who suspects they have the disease and they require urgent treatment, then 95% of confirmed cases should start treatment within 62 days. But in February, 90.5% of patients in Wales received treatment within that time period.

The second current target involves patients who are not considered urgent cases but are subsequently diagnosed with the disease. It means 98% of those patients should start treatment within 31 days of that point.

'Silver bullet solution'

Ministers said the new system will help the NHS to gain a more accurate picture of actual waiting times and speed up treatment in many cases.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford said: "Developing a single pathway will help us to be even more ambitious in terms of faster diagnosis and treatment as it will enable us to measure the actual time people wait and make sure patients are prioritised accordingly."

Opposition parties have raised questions about the Welsh government's plans.

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: "While there may be merit in reassessing some targets, simply changing or removing targets will not be a silver bullet solution that will fix all of Wales' healthcare problems."

The pilot began this month and will run until September 30. It will measure performance against the current 31-day and 62-day targets which will continue to be measured.

Darren Millar, Conservative Shadow Health Minister, said: "This is yet another example of the Welsh Labour government scrapping targets it can't meet.

"Patients in Wales deserve first class cancer care and timely treatment."

Sally Greenbrook from Breakthrough Breast Cancer said the charity hoped the pilot would "lead to decisive action to tackle the problem of non-urgent referral waiting times" as some women were experiencing long waits between a non-urgent referral and diagnosis which could negatively impact upon treatment outcomes.

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