Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Lead for the Royal College of GPs and Cancer Research UK, said:
“Across the UK, GPs are already doing a good job of appropriately referring our patients that we suspect of having cancer – 75% of patients found to have cancer are referred after only one or two GP consultations.
“This research paper reinforces what we already know – early diagnosis of cancer results in better outcomes. During the study period those practices that referred a higher proportion of patients with symptoms indicating cancer using the urgent referral route had higher detection rates. Overall for England, the detection rate has increased from 42.9% in 2010 to 48.8% in 2014 (www.cancertoolkit.co.uk), which is to be welcomed. It is clear that detection rates should be the benchmark used, and not the proportion of urgent referrals diagnosed with cancer.
“The recent publication of the NICE Guidance for Suspected Cancer, and the Cancer Task Force, gives GPs the opportunity to lower the threshold for referring those with symptoms that could be caused by cancer, which will have the benefit of diagnosing more cancers at an earlier stage, with its associated better outcomes. It could also result in reduced numbers of consultations to reach a diagnosis, which would be universally welcomed in the face of the pressures currently facing primary care.
“However this can only be achieved if general practice is better resourced and GPs are given greater access to diagnostic tools such as CT and MRI scans. Our access is one of the worst in Europe and better access would mean we are able to refer even more appropriately, avoiding unnecessary distress for our patients and alleviating pressures on secondary care.”
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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.