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10% of patients see GP five times before cancer referral

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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The Daily Mail has recently reported that nearly one in ten patients saw their GP five or more times before being referred to hospital to be tested for cancer.  The Daily Mail has also reported that on average, 25% of those who go on to be diagnosed with cancer have to go to their GP at least three times before being referred, a figure which has remained unchanged in the last 2 years.

Many are shocked at the report’s findings which come 12 months after a £450 million investment from the Government to tackle this very problem.  The findings make for uneasy reading when coupled with the fact that cancer survival rates in Britain are far lower than those in other European countries, predominantly due to late diagnosis.

The Daily Mail’s report, based on the findings of the Department of Health’s ‘National Cancer Patient Experience Survey’ implies that the £450 million investment is having little effect.

Andrew Wilson, Chief Executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation comments, “The NHS needs to do more to help GPs identify signs of cancer if potentially fatal delays are to be avoided.  GPs should be making better use of tests to rule out cancer first.”

Research by the National Cancer Intelligence Network commented that the ‘chance of being referred was a postcode lottery’, echoing claims from the GP magazine from 12 months earlier, that a quarter of NHS Trusts were telling family doctors to send fewer patients for scans to save money.  The report revealed that in some areas, patients were 60 times more likely to get sent for a scan than others.

A Department of Health spokesman said, “GPs have a vital role in diagnosing cancer earlier and it is important they receive the right support to assess and refer patients with symptoms of suspected cancer”.

The £450 million investment is a 4 year initiative to make it easier for GPs to send their patients for cancer tests.  It is therefore to be hoped that as the initiative increases in age, the number of patients referred to hospital for potentially life saving tests, increases with it.

By clinical negligence specialist, Paul Burrows.