Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “At face value, this appears to be very good news that patients will find encouraging and reassuring.
“Timely diagnosis of cancer is a priority for the RCGP and we welcome any move that will help GPs identify signs of cancer as early as possible so that we can provide the best care possible to all our patients at every stage of their condition.
“However, we query whether NICE has assessed the potential volume of patients that will be affected by this change and are worried that the system overall may well not be able to cope with the increased volume of referrals.
“We support moving to 3% thresholds, but only if local services can accommodate such a change in practice.
“If there is sufficient diagnostic capacity, such as scans and imaging, in secondary care then that works to everyone’s advantage. But if the onward services cannot cope with the work, we run the risk of patients actually having to wait longer for investigations and diagnosis, causing them further anxiety and stress.
“As there has not been a phased introduction of these guidelines, the pathways used by GPs for referring patients for all conditions could change overnight, meaning that services such as diagnostics, clinics and administration services could get swamped.
“We would welcome reassurance from NICE that it has carried out modelling or risk assessments to identify possible adverse consequences and come up with local plans to mitigate any risks.
“If not, we need to see structured risk assessments or pilot schemes within individual health economies to test out what impact this will have on local services – both in general practice and secondary care, particularly radiology.
“The new NICE guidance has the potential to make a real difference to the one in two of us who will develop cancer sometime in our lifetime and in increasing the number of people who live 10 years or more after a cancer diagnosis.
“But it would be regrettable if something that was so well-intentioned resulted in patients being worse off.”
RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7581
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659
Notes to editor
The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.