NHS instructs GPs to double referrals to reduce cancer deaths

Posted: 20/11/2014


The NHS advisory body is encouraging GPs in England to nearly double the number of patients they refer for hospital cancer tests. Although GPs have maintained that they were already “doing a very good job” at referrals, it has been reported that up to 10,000 people die every year because their cancer is diagnosed late. 

An NHS survey carried out last year revealed that nearly a quarter of all people who are eventually diagnosed with cancer in England had to visit their doctor at least three times before being referred to hospital for tests.

The aim is to increase the number of referrals from 1.2 million to two million a year at a cost to the NHS of between £17.8m and £36.3m, according to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Referrals are expected to increase by 5-15% for lower gastrointestinal cancer (28,800 more);  5-10% for urological cancer (14,400 more); 10-15% for lung cancer (4,800 more); and 10-20% for children’s cancers (1,200 more).

Natalie Churney, associate in the London clinical negligence team of Penningtons Manches maintains that: “We see a large number of cases involving a misdiagnosis of cancer. This not only drastically affects the life of the patient but also their family and friends. It is vitally important that when someone starts to experience the onset of any signs or symptoms, they visit their GP immediately. 

“GPs must explore the possibility of cancer and refer that individual as a matter of urgency.  They also need to be given easier access to diagnostics such as CT and MRI scans and ultrasound that could make a real difference to patients.”

The NHS draft guidance includes recommendations about "safety netting". This explains how to review people with symptoms associated with cancer who do not meet the criteria for referral to help ensure that cancer is not missed.


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