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GPs three times less likely to refer patients for cancer tests

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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Official figures released by the National Cancer Intelligent Network (NCIN) have revealed that some GPs are three times less likely to refer a patient to a specialist, causing thousands of cancer patients being treated too late and missing out on an early diagnosis which can affect their chances of survival.

The figures showed that 1,000 GP practices referred more than 2,550 people per 100,000 and a similar number sent fewer than 830 patients per 100,000 for tests. The correct number of referrals has yet to be established but it is thought that those at either end of the referral spectrum are likely due to a variation in standards of care.

The wide variation of referral rates has been described as ‘worrying’ because GPs may be missing cases whilst others are sending large numbers of patients, causing them unnecessary anxiety.

The Primary Trust areas with the highest referral rates match the areas which have high prevalence of cancer such as the North West and South West of England.

The Associate Director for the NICIN’s clinical outcome programme has confirmed it is obvious from the figures that the variation on referrals needs to be addressed.

It has been calculated that if England’s survival rates matched the rest of Europe, then 10,000 lives a year could be saved. The Executive Director of Policy and Information at Cancer Research UK has said we urgently need to learn more about what’s behind these differences and tackle any poor practice to prevent any delays in diagnosis.

By Sarah Fairclough, specialist in clinical negligence