Headlines: April 9th, 2001

Waiting times for cancer treatment have been cut dramatically under pilot schemes to end delays in assessment and treatment.The Cancer Services Collaborative programme was launched in November 1999. Among the successes so far is the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, which swept away a three-week delay in breast cancer waiting times by re-designing patient registration forms to double-up as oncology referral forms.

University Hospital Lewisham has stopped giving patients two separate appointment days for tests, decreasing anxiety and cutting the rate of patients not attending appointments from 15% to zero.

Northwick Park Hospital and Clinical research centre in Harrow reduced a backlog of routine CT scans from 18 weeks to zero. They did this by designing a scheduling template ensuring the scanner was used to its full capacity.

These successes come from three out of 51 teams across the country working on new ideas, and together they have halved the time taken to receive first treatment and reduced waiting times for radiology by nearly two-thirds. Many of the improvements have been made with relatively few new resources. The main resource has been time and support for those involved in the process to think through new ideas and systems.

The programme is now to be rolled out nationwide, with some of these new ideas being shared at forums and in written guidance to NHS centres involved in the identification and treatment of cancer across the country. There is also a video, ‘Voices from the Collaborative’, which features those involved in the pilot.

The NHS Plan set the target that by 2005 all cancer patients should have to wait no more than two months from GP referral to first definitive treatment.