After 450m boost, GPs are still failing to spot cancer: Quarter of patients forced to visit three times before a referral
Nearly one in ten patients saw their GP five or more times before being referred to hospitalCancer survival rates lower in Britain than other European countries

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UPDATED:

06:45 GMT, 6 September 2012

A quarter of people who go on to be diagnosed with cancer have to go to their GP at least three times before being referred for a hospital test, a major report shows.

The Government's 450million programme should have allowed women to get chest X-rays more quickly

The Government's 450million programme should have allowed women to get chest X-rays more quickly

Many are still waiting far too long, despite millions being invested in giving family doctors quicker access to crucial tests.

According to the Department of Health’s own survey, nearly one in ten patients saw their GP five or more times before finally being referred to hospital.

A further 16 per cent – nearly one in six – had to see their family doctor either three or four times.

Cancer survival rates in Britain are far lower than those in other European countries, largely due to late diagnosis.

In
an attempt to remedy this, the Government last year invested
450million in a four-year programme to make it easier for GPs to send
their patients for tests.

This included allowing them to be
referred directly for ultrasounds, chest X-rays and brain scans instead
of having to see a consultant, who would decide if this was needed.

But the results of the department’s National Cancer Patient Experience Survey for 2011-12 imply that the initiative is having little effect.

Of the 71,793 patients who took part, 25 per cent had seen their GP at least three times before being sent to hospital.

This is exactly the same proportion as the previous survey from 2010, before the initiative came in.

Andrew
Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, said: ‘The
survey shows that many patients get a rapid diagnosis.

People are encouraged to consult a doctor as soon as they find a lump

People are encouraged to consult their GP as soon as they find a lump

‘However, it is worrying there are still big variations in the number of times they have to visit a GP before getting a referral.

‘The NHS needs to do more to help GPs identify signs of cancer if potentially fatal delays are to be avoided. GPs should be making better use of tests to rule out cancer first.’

Dr Rosie Loftus, GP adviser at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘It is disappointing there is no improvement in the past year.

‘Spotting cancer in its early stages can make a huge difference to getting vital treatment and have a very real effect on a patient’s prognosis.’

Last year, GP magazine found that a quarter of NHS trusts are telling family doctors to send fewer patients for scans to save money.

This summer, research by the National Cancer Intelligence Network found the chance of being referred was a postcode lottery.

Patients in some areas were more than 60 times more likely to get sent for a scan than others.

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘GPs have a vital role in diagnosing cancer earlier and it is important they receive the right support to assess and refer patients with symptoms of suspected cancer.’