GPs ‘fail to fast-track cancer patients’

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THOUSANDS of people diagnosed with cancer may be failed by family doctors who do not refer them quickly enough.

Figures from around 4,000 GP practices in England show, in many cases, only a minority of patients are fast-tracked for investigation by a specialist.

In some practices, only around one in 10 patients eventually diagnosed with the disease saw a specialist within two weeks.

NHS targets say 95 per cent of patients with suspected cancer referred by their GP must be seen by a specialist within two weeks. The figures suggest many are eventually diagnosed another way.

While some GP practices show 100 per cent of patients with cancer making it through the fast-track system, others fall far behind. In around half of the practices in the sample, fewer than half of cancer patients were seen through the two-week system.

Not all patients with cancer visit their GP with symptoms. Some are diagnosed in A&E, others have cancer detected during routine tests, or are referred straight to A&E by their GPs because their symptoms are so bad.

The new data has been published by NHS England as part of information to help patients work out how well their GP practice is performing. Its deputy medical director Mike Bewick said the level of variation between practices is too wide and the data offered an important insight as to “where we should be doing better”.

“It’s meant to have a positive effect on making sure practices have best systems in place and diagnostic ability,” he said.

“When people go to their GP with red flag symptoms such as coughing up blood or changes in their bowel you would expect those patients to be picked up.

“But just imagine the scenario when you have an elderly patient with many symptoms and the one they are most worried about is not the red flag. It’s often due to complexity rather than mistake.”