Daily Mail

GPs urged to send patients directly for cancer scans

New push to cut waiting times

- By Shaun Wooller Health Editor

FAMILY doctors have been ordered to send thousands more patients directly for cancer scans to slash waiting times for routine diagnoses from 12 weeks to four.

Health bosses want GPs to bypass hospital doctors and request more scans themselves.

Currently patients with vague symptoms can face long waits for an appointmen­t with a specialist, tests and their first treatment.

But new guidance tells GPs to use their judgment and order more scans for symptoms such as coughs, fatigue and dizziness – skipping the need to see a hospital ‘middle-man’. The move is expected to cut the typical wait for a routine diagnosis and free up hundreds of thousands of hospital appointmen­ts.

The policy will apply to vague symptoms that fall outside a twoweek referral target, which applies when GPs have a stronger suspicion of cancer.

Guidance has been in place since 2012 telling GPs they have the right to refer patients directly for scans.

But NHS England is now pushing them to use the power in a bid to get more people diagnosed with cancer in its earliest stages.

The 2012 guidance said chest X-rays, ultrasound and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were among ‘priority areas’ to which GPs should have free access.

However, some doctors failed to make the bookings or were prevented by local health chiefs or hospital bosses. Now NHS England is trying to standardis­e the approach so that regions which may not have access to all the tests can get them.

Its guidance also allows GP teams to use a wider scope of tests.

Some hospitals have shown that when GPs refer directly they can cut waiting times.

In 2018, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust showed that direct access to computed tomography (CT) scans for suspected lung cancer meant patients waited an average of 29 days instead of 66 between referral and treatment.

Health Service chief executive Amanda Pritchard will tell the NHS Providers conference in Liverpool today: ‘By sending patients straight to testing, we can catch and treat more cancers at an earlier stage.’

Dr Katharine Halliday, of the Royal College of Radiologis­ts, said: ‘For a patient with cancer, every day counts. Quicker diagnosis means less invasive treatments, better recovery and better outcomes.’

Professor Martin Marshall, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘GPs want to ensure timely diagnosis for their patients so that those with cancer can receive the appropriat­e treatment and those without can be reassured.

‘This is why the college has long been calling for GPs to have better access to diagnostic testing in the community, and, whilst the devil will be in the detail as to how it will work in practice, today’s announceme­nt is a positive step.’

■ Health Secretary Steve Barclay will vow to end the postcode lottery in waiting times to see GPs and receive treatment when he addresses the NHS Providers conference today.

He will make a commitment to focus on what matters most to patients, including ambulance response times and hospital discharge delays.

‘Catch and treat at an earlier stage’

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