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What a faster cancer diagnosis will mean for Londoners

3rd February 2020

A diagnosis of cancer can be a life changing event giving way to complex emotions and uncertainty about what is to come. Waiting to hear if you have cancer can also cause a significant amount of fear, worry and stress.

As part of a new nationwide initiative starting in April, patients will now find out whether or not they have cancer in 28 days or less. This Faster Diagnosis Standard (FDS) is one of the aims in the NHS Long Term Plan; to transform cancer care and increase survival rates.

In 2017, 231,000 Londoners were living with cancer, this equates to 2.6% of the London population, and this number is expected to increase by 50% in 2030. Already, we know that in the past year across London 380,000 patients were referred by their GP on suspicion of cancer.

The FDS will benefit patients across London as it covers all referrals on suspicion of cancer; patients referred with breast symptoms and patients in cancer screening programmes who require further investigation after the initial screening test. This will minimise the considerable anxiety and worry all patients face following their referral, as it will mean that those who don’t have cancer as well as those that do have cancer will find out more quickly. The FDS states that ‘A maximum 28 day wait from referral to the date on which the patient is told whether cancer is diagnosed or ruled out’.

The current process ensures those who do have a cancer diagnosis must be told in person. However, for those who have negative results after diagnostic tests, there is no standard practice in place. This means that patients could be left waiting too long to hear that they don’t have cancer. This new approach to diagnosis will mean that patients must be told in a maximum 28-day period either via letter, telephone or face to face that they don’t have cancer. An accurate account of this communication must be maintained in their record.

For those who do receive a cancer diagnosis, it will mean that they will be able to begin treatment as soon as possible. We know that early diagnosis is key to survival outcomes; when a cancer is diagnosed at an early stage – and treated, the chance of survival beyond five years is far higher than at a later stage when the cancer has spread.

As well as the immediate medical issues that affect a person with a cancer diagnosis, there are also psychosocial and physical concerns that must not be overlooked. A significant amount of work by the Personalised Care for Cancer team at Transforming Cancer Services Team (TCST) has been done to highlight both the importance of ensuring that patients who are about to start treatment, and those living with and beyond cancer have access to good psychosocial and rehabilitation services in their local area to support them.

The FDS aims to improve patient care by speeding up the start of the cancer pathway and reducing the waiting period in finding out the outcome of their cancer referral. Over the past year, TCST have been working alongside the three cancer alliances to coordinate work to improve FDS, share good practice and develop solutions across London. This collaborative work is especially important to ensure that both healthcare professionals and patients across London are aware of this new system and that data collected is effectively managed and recorded.

Andy McMeeking, Deputy Director of the Transforming Cancer Services Team says of the new standard, “The introduction of the FDS will mean that patients across London who may have cancer will find out their diagnosis more quickly at a very stressful time”.

For more information on the Faster Diagnosis Standard, contact the Transforming Cancer Services Team – england.tcstlondon@nhs.net

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