Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Large push to meet NHS operations backlog falls short on hitting targets

BMJ 2023; 381 doi: (Published 11 May 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p1083

Rapid Response:

Radiotherapy UK: Highlighting the potentially dangerous confusion around national NHS cancer performance targets

Dear Editor

This article states that ‘The target to reduce the number of people waiting more than 62 days to start cancer treatment to around 14,200 (as before the pandemic) by April of this year was also missed as there were 19,248 people waiting that long by the end of March. The numbers however are down from a peak of 34,000 in July of last year’. This statement is simply not true, confusing the performance of two profoundly different targets and feeding into a seriously incorrect narrative that treatment times for cancer patients are improving. Clarity is not helped here by the fact that the name of the two targets contains the phrase ’62-day’.

At Radiotherapy UK we are deeply concerned about the impact of such confusion and have created a short video to set the record straight on the appalling cancer treatment performance in this country.[1]

The performance against two similarly named but totally different cancer targets, is being widely and incorrectly cited as evidence that the performance in treating patients who actually have cancer, the 62 day treatment target, is improving. It is not. There is some welcome improvement in the interim 62 day backlog target which mainly deals with patients who do not have cancer. But the quarterly performance against the crucial 62 day treatment target for cancer patients is the worst on record, with little sign of any significant imminent improvement.

This is not just about semantics or dry statistics. This really matters to cancer patients as every 4-week delay in treatment can increase the risk of death by around 10%.

Our fear is that if parliamentarians and others involved in policy development are lulled into a false sense of security by the incorrect narrative currently circulating, we risk not making the changes needed to address this dangerous and potentially deadly cancer crisis.

1 Radiotherapy UK. VIDEO: clearing confusion around cancer performance targets. 6 June 2023

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 July 2023
Sarah T Quinlan
Charity Director
Abbotsbury Rd, London.