46% of GPs’ cancer referrals blocked or downgraded, says survey

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Daily Mail

Nearly half of GPs have been blocked from sending patients for urgent cancer scans, a survey has found.

Daily Mail reports that family doctors are meant to refer any patient suspected of having cancer for a hospital test within two weeks.

But 46% of GPs said that at least one of their referrals had been blocked or downgraded by cost-cutting staff in the last year.

This leads to patients waiting longer to be diagnosed with cancer or offered treatment.

One GP said he had repeatedly tried to refer a child for urgent hospital tests for blood cancer but was turned down by hospital doctors.

Eventually the tests were carried out and the child is now being treated in a top London hospital for advanced lymphoma.

The survey involved 507 GPs and was carried out by GP Online.

But the results suggest doctors are finding it increasingly difficult to refer patients for urgent cancer scans.

When the same survey was carried out two years ago, just 31% said their referrals had been blocked.

Cancer survival rates in the UK are amongst the worst in Western Europe and this has been blamed on GPs spotting symptoms late.

But family doctors point out they are being actively discouraged from referring patients for tests because managers are intent on saving money.

And nearly quarter – 23% – of GPs whose referrals had been blocked said their patient did, in fact, turn out to have cancer.

Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: “GPs have been working hard to help diagnose cancers earlier, and it would be a shame if this is reversed due to a lack of resources.

“Investing in diagnostics will not only help cancer patients get an earlier diagnosis, but it could also reduce the demands on general practice, save money in the long run and improve patient outcomes.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee said: “At a time when there is an increased focus on reducing any unnecessary delays in diagnosing cancer, it is a concern that there remains so much variability in the ability of GPs to access appropriate diagnostic services.”

If GPs’ referrals are blocked they have to go through the whole process of referring the patient again, which can take several days.

When patients are downgraded, they are offered a non-urgent scan and may have to wait several weeks.

An NHS England spokesman said the NHS watchdog NICE had produced detailed guidelines for GPs to help them detect cancer earlier.

“If a GP makes a referral in line with this guidance, this should generally not be passed back to the GP for further assessment,” he said.

“Across all cancers, patients are now being tested sooner with investment in greater diagnostic capacity including the rollout of one-stop cancer diagnostic services across the country.”

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