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Variation in GP referrals to cancer specialists

06/08/2012 | By Sharmila Chauhan
A recent report  published by the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), highlights important facts around the health care of cancer patients in the UK. The study shows that there is a lot of variability in the number of referrals from GP practices to hospital cancer specialists. The figures range from around 830-2,550 in 100,000 people per year.

Seven patients a year have cancer

The figures show that in one year, the average GP will see seven patients who have cancer. Approximately one of these will be a lung, bowel, prostate or breast. The remaining three with be other types of cancer.

The main worry is that GPs may be seeing seven patients a year with cancer, but that there is a lot of variation in how many of these patients will be seen by a specialist. Reasons for this may be due to time constraints, difficulty in identifying symptoms but more work is needed to find out why this is happening.

Two week referral process is not working

There has been some concerns around the 'two week referral' process that GPs must use to identify patients which they should refer. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has set out criteria for GPs to use in order to decide whether a patient should be refered. However this means that unless a patient has 'alarm bell' symptoms, the health service is unable to refer them to a specialist.

Sixth sense

However, some GPs have said that they are being forced to ‘manipulate' the system in order to refer patients who man not fit the 'criteria' but who they 'feel' should be seen. Criticism of the pathway suggests that it makes no allowances for the GPs ‘sixth sense'. It has been suggested that a review of the NICE recommendations is timely and that GPs should be better supported to allow them to make accurate referrals. to cancer specialists.

Patients who are concerned about cancer referral rates may consider taking out health insurance. Freedom Health provides comprehensive cancer cover for both UK and international plans.