A new study has revealed that delays in testing for cancer because GPs are unwilling to refer patients early may be contributing to why UK cancer survival rates are so much lower than in other comparable countries.
Over the last six years, the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership compared UK cancer survival rates to those in five other countries.
Patients in Australia, Canada, Norway and Sweden were all found to have a better chance of surviving cancer, whereas only Denmark had cancer survival rates as low as in the UK.
According to the study, a clear link was found between cancer survival rates and GP’s willingness to refer patients for x-rays and scans.
Research has shown that cancers in the UK tend to be more advanced when first treated, compared to other countries. This is largely believed to be because GPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are less inclined to refer patients with suspected cancer immediately for further testing.
Around 10,000 lives are lost each year because Britain lags behind the best in the world at treating cancer. This latest study suggests that a huge number of these deaths could be prevented if GPs referred their patients more quickly.
One reason why GPs order fewer tests could be because they are less than half as likely to have direct access to CT and MRI scans than those in countries such as Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway.
Cost pressures and long waiting lists for scans are also a problem in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with many patients delayed several weeks longer than in countries such as Australia.
The International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership found that, despite improvements in UK cancer survival rates, British patients are still dying earlier than in other rich countries.
When researchers questioned 2,795 GPs in six countries about whether they would refer patients to specialists if they showed signs of possible lung, colorectal or ovarian cancer, British GPs were found to be consistently less likely to send patients with symptoms such as coughs and abdominal pains for further testing.
Although more than 70% of GPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had direct access to blood tests, x-rays and ultrasound for diagnosing cancer, tellingly, only 20% could order CT scans without going through a hospital - compared to almost 100% in Australia.
This study reveals why it is so important the NHS urgently reviews the GP referral system to prevent so many people dying needlessly of cancer each year in the UK.
The earlier cancer is detected the higher the chances of patients receiving potentially life-saving care. The NHS needs a system whereby GPs can, without hesitation, refer people with suspected cancer symptoms to specialists, to ensure early diagnosis and access to the best possible treatments.
Paul Sankey is a Senior Medical Negligence Solicitor leading the Slater and Gordon Lawyers Clinical Negligence team in London.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of cancer due to Medical Negligence.
For a free consultation call the Medical Negligence Solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.