The Department of Health wants 95% of cancers in England to be diagnosed – or ruled-out – within 4 weeks by 2020.

It estimates that the faster diagnosis would save an extra 11,000 lives. The target, recommended by the Independent Cancer Taskforce, is expected to cost an extra £300m per year.

Patients will be able to opt to receive their test results online for the first time, speeding up the delivery of news. Under existing guidelines, patients are supposed to see a specialist within two weeks; it is the wait for results that is a cause for concern.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We know that the biggest single factor that means our cancer survival rates lag behind those of France, Germany and other European countries is the fact that we have too much late diagnosis.”

How will the NHS meet this target? Mr Hunt has promised additional cancer consultants and specialist nurses, as well as staff trained in endoscopies and diagnostic tests, in order to make the plans a reality.

The trouble is, diagnosis, while time-consuming, is only half the story. Helena, 28, a pathology lab assistant from Southend, explains: “Pathology departments’ workloads are too much already, so they will all definitely need a lot more staff. Otherwise, this new deadline will make people rush and mistakes could be made.

“And it’s not just the diagnosis that takes time – they need to decide on treatment options, based on the type of cancer and its aggressiveness. This all takes time.”

The scheme is to be trialled at five hospitals initially. If successful, it will be rolled out across the country.

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