Only 54% of women screened for cervical cancer are receiving their results within the two-week target period, according to NHS England data.
The number of women receiving their results on time falls well below the NHS target of 98%. According to the data supplied to the BBC by NHS England, 83% of women are receiving their results letter within three weeks of their test.
Only 20% of CCGs in England are currently meeting the two-week target, while the longest recorded wait for results was 59 days.
The delays are due to a change in the testing process, say experts, as the usual cytology test is being replaced by Human Papillomavirus testing. John Crossley, the Deputy Chief Examiner in Cytology, said it had been a ‘difficult period’ because labs were unwilling to train staff in the current process when it faced being replaced.
‘It’s been a balancing act and the scales are starting to tip,’ he added. ‘I understand the psychological effects of waiting for results, the anxiety it can cause, but patient care is not being affected.’
Dr Suzy Lishman, President of the Royal College of Pathologists, agreed that the effect of the delays on patients was mainly anxiety, and that the wait was unlikely to lead to ill-health as cervical cancer takes decades to develop.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Dr Lishman claimed that the new testing system would require fewer staff to process samples, which should speed up the process of receiving results.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘A way of analyzing tests which will identify more women who are at risk and save more lives is being introduced. However, the transition is impacting on turnaround times as the new system is implemented.
‘This will be completed in 2019 and in the meantime NHS England is working with hospitals to increase capacity and cut backlogs.’