Vaughan Gething AM, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services

First published:
22 November 2018
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I have previously stated that I would consider introducing a single cancer pathway in Wales to help deliver improved outcomes and more accurate reporting. I can confirm today that I have decided to introduce a new single cancer pathway across Wales in 2019. The introduction of a single cancer pathway will  replace the urgent suspected cancer (USC) and non-urgent suspected cancer (nUSC) pathways. This marks a significant step forward for Wales and enjoys the support of the clinical community and the third sector Wales Cancer Alliance. No other UK country has taken this step.

The support of the clinical community and third sector reflects the development of a more accurate and clinically meaningful waiting time measure. The single cancer pathway will measure the wait of patients on the two traditional pathways but importantly, a patient’s waiting time will begin from the point of a suspicion of cancer rather than the point of diagnosis. The single pathway is for all cancer patients, whether referred by the GP or identified through an emergency presentation, an incidental finding, screening or during an appointment in secondary care.

As well as enabling a more accurate, single measure of waits in the health system, the need to standardise what is being measured has proved to be a unique opportunity to review the quality of pathways and tackle variation in clinical practice across Wales. This is a significant piece of work for the NHS. I pay tribute to the considerable leadership from the Wales Cancer Network and engagement from the health boards and Velindre NHS Trust over the past year to prepare.

Health boards have been shadow reporting against the new pathway since January. Wales will begin publically reporting from June 2019. We will continue to report the traditional USC and nUSC pathways alongside the single cancer pathway in order to ensure maximum transparency and to allow comparison against our existing targets. However, at an appropriate point in the future I expect us to transition completely and solely report on the new pathway measure. There will be further clinical engagement to set meaningful performance measures for the new single pathway.

The new pathway starts the waiting time clock earlier and we can expect to see lower percentage figures on the new pathway. It is important to note that this does not mean people are waiting any longer. It does, however, mean that the actual patient experience is being measured in a more meaningful and accurate way.  It is important to get this right to deliver both improvement and more effectively to target NHS activity.

I have made a £3 million investment from April 2019 as part of the NHS budget settlement to support of the introduction of the single cancer pathway and improvement in performance. This money will be invested in health boards and Velindre NHS Trust to ensure they have the planning, technical and leadership capacity to successfully move to the single cancer pathway and to support  performance and quality improvements in the pathways of care. There will also need to be additional national and local focus on diagnostic capacity, efficiency and investment to improve performance.

We continue to test innovative approaches in Wales to improve cancer outcomes. A good example of this is the Rapid Diagnostic Centre at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital where I have made today’s announcement.  The Welsh Government is determined to improve cancer outcomes for the people of Wales and the new single cancer pathway, together with our focus on earlier detection are part of helping us to do just that.