CCGs should review their referral policies to close the gap on cancer survival rates, a report has urged.
A report – Unfinished business — published by health think tank the Health Foundation today called on all CCGs to comply with national guidance to better assist GPs in referring patients at high risk of getting cancer.
According to NHS England, cancer is one of the clinical priorities that will be set out in the upcoming long-term plan.
Complying with national guidance
Under current NICE guidelines, GPs are recommended to investigate patients who present to the practice with symptoms indicating a 3% or greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer.
The report said all CCGs should be compliant with the guidance to help GPs determine whether a patient is at high risk of cancer and improve survival rates across the country.
‘These guidelines have not yet been fully implemented and efforts are being made to increase GP awareness. Some, but not all, CCGs have changed their referral templates to comply with the guidelines and tools are being developed to assist GPs in assessing levels of risk,’ the report said.
‘Wide variations persist between GP practices and CCGs in the use of the urgent referral route and in so-called conversion rates (the proportion of people referred who are subsequently found to have a cancer).’
Despite ‘significant improvements’ on mortality and survival rates over the last decade, people with cancer still wait too long to receive treatment.
According to the Health Foundation, one in 11 people with suspected cancer who are urgently referred by a GP wait more than two weeks to see a specialist.
Meanwhile the national target of 85% patients waiting no longer than 62 days between an urgent referral and first treatment has not been met for four and a half years, the think tank said.
‘Streamlined system that supports GPs’
Responding to the report, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said increased chances of survival for cancer patients can be achieved through a ‘streamlined system that supports GPs in making timely referrals.’
He added: ‘While we appreciate the pressures that many commissioners find themselves under, they should be encouraging this process, rather than frustrating it, so that all patients who need a referral for further investigation get one.
‘GPs need rapid access to diagnostic services, such as MRI or CT scans, and, where appropriate, certain patients should be able to directly access tests themselves — where clinical evidence supports this.
‘All GPs should have the option to refer patients with relevant symptoms directly for investigations to be followed up by a consultation with a specialist.’