Nearly one in four patients with cancer symptoms have to wait more than a month for a referral to a specialist from their GP, a new study shows.
The National Audit of Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care, compiled by the Royal College of GPs, found that 73.2 per cent of patients visiting their GP were referred to a specialist after one or two consultations. Of these, 60 per cent were seen by a specialist within two weeks.
But the study also showed that 4 per cent of patients with cancer symptoms had to see their GP at least 5 times before they were referred to specialist care. This figure includes 14 per cent of myeloma patients and 8 per cent of stomach cancer patients.
One in five of the patients with cancers of the lung, ovary, pancreas and stomach had to go to their GP three or more times with symptoms. While symptoms of these cancers are common, the cancers themselves are rare, making them harder to diagnose.
Greg Rubin, professor of general practice and primary care at Durham University said:
“The good news is that many patients are identified promptly as needing specialist assessment, but we could do better and improved access to cancer tests would help in this.”
The audit found that one in five patients with brain cancer were actually identified in A&E, as were 10 per cent of kidney and stomach cancer patients, because of the difficulty of diagnosis.
Early diagnosis and treatment of cancer improves patients' chances of survival. Delays in diagnosis have long been blamed for the UK having poorer survival rates than other European countries.
Patients with private medical insurance will be covered for seeing a specialist of their choice, at a time of their choice, after referral from a GP. Private medical insurance will also allow patients to have scans and diagnostic tests without going on the NHS waiting list.
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