Cancer survival rates are lagging in England “compared to the best European countries” say NICE, the body promoting and monitoring care excellence in the UK. According to a recent report, there is potential for an extra 5,000 lives to be saved each year if certain changes are rolled out across GP surgeries and the wider NHS.
Early diagnosis and treatment is considered the key to cancer survival in the 21st Century, and NICE’s proposed guidelines put this at its very heart. If a GP currently suspects cancer, they must refer to a specialist in that particular area of medicine who will then arrange scans or investigations if there continues to be suspicion of disease. At present, patients are expected to have that initial assessment within 2 weeks, under the cancer referral “2-week rule”, but the investigations themselves will not necessarily take place at that same time. NICE advises that GPs should have the power to order certain scans and investigations; by-passing the specialist review and providing the patient with earlier results and in turn earlier treatment if cancer is identified.
The proposal also encourages GPs to focus on key symptoms of cancer and to act upon those, as opposed to considering what cancer the patient might have and then cross-checking that diagnosis with the symptoms. The current system can lead to delay of investigation if the “pathway” determined is inconclusive or incorrect.
The Royal College of GPs has welcomed the guidance, but raised concerns about the NHS’ ability to facilitate the additional scans and investigations that will inevitably arise. With the potential for longer waiting lists for scans negating any benefit in bi-passing the oncology specialists, Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the College, said “it would be regrettable if something that was so well-intentioned resulted in patients being worse off”.
Whilst these proposals put speed of diagnosis at the heart of cancer treatment at GP level, GPs can only react to symptoms if patients tell them about them. Everyone is urged to see their GP as soon as possible if they identify a worrying symptom, even if just a one off. For example, bladder cancer may present itself as one drop of blood in your urine, which does not recur for a long time. If you leave that until you see blood again, you may miss your opportunity for a full recovery.
If you, or anyone you know, may have been affected by a delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer, contact our specialist lawyers on 0800 316 8892.