Standards of care

There are national guidelines and standards for cancer treatment and care.

They are mainly written for healthcare professionals so that the same level of care is given for people across the UK.

If you are interested in reading them, your healthcare team might be able to show them to you, or you can find them online.

Some of the guidelines and standards are different across the UK.

England and Wales

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline, ‘Suspected cancer: recognition and referral’, tells GPs when they should refer someone to a specialist if they have symptoms that could be cancer. There is also a version for the general public, which is online at nice.org.uk.

Scotland

  • The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) has guidelines about different cancer types and managing some conditions. Visit sign.ac.uk to find out more.
  • NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government have written guidelines for when GPs in Scotland should refer someone to a specialist if they have symptoms that could be cancer. Visit the website to find out more.

Northern Ireland

  • The Department of Health has a set of standards for treatment and care for people with cancer. You can read this at health-ni.gov.uk.
  • Like in England and Wales, the NICE guideline, ‘Suspected cancer: recognition and referral’, tells GPs in Northern Ireland when they should refer someone to a specialist if they have symptoms that could be cancer. There is also a version for the general public, which is online at nice.org.uk.

Cancer waiting times

Getting an accurate diagnosis of cancer can take weeks or sometimes months. Usually, this will not impact on how successful the treatment will be.

The NHS in all four nations is committed to making sure that people with cancer or suspected cancer are seen as quickly as possible.

The time you can expect to wait varies depending on where you live.

If you have particular signs and symptoms that suggest you might have cancer, your GP may decide you need to see a specialist quickly. They will give you an urgent referral. If you live in England, this means you should see the specialist within 2 weeks.

Wherever you live in the UK, if you are referred to a specialist, you should not have to wait longer than 62 days from the referral before starting treatment.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, you should not have to wait more than 31 days from the diagnosis and a decision to start treatment before you have treatment.

For more information on cancer waiting times:

Back to Access to treatment

Going abroad for treatment

If you are thinking about going abroad for NHS-funded treatment, your local health commissioner can advise you about your options.