UK & World News

  • 7 December 2013, 11:30

Cancer: 'Half Of Doctors Failing Patients'

Family doctors have been accused of failing cancer sufferers after new data suggested more than half are not referring patients to specialists quickly enough.

Figures from around 4,000 GP practices in England show that, in many cases, only a minority of patients are fast-tracked for investigation by a specialist.

In some practices, only around 10% of patients eventually diagnosed with the disease saw a specialist within two weeks.

The target for the NHS says 95% of patients with suspected cancer referred by their GP must be seen by a specialist within two weeks.

While some GP practices show 100% of patients with cancer making it through the fast-track system, others fall far behind.

In around half of the practices in the sample, fewer than 50% of cancer patients were seen through the two-week system.

Not all patients with cancer visit their GP with symptoms.

Some are diagnosed in A&E, while others have cancer detected during routine tests, or are referred straight to A&E by their GPs because their symptoms are so bad.

Stuart Barber, head of communications and campaigns at Beating Bowel Cancer, said the findings were "intolerable".

He said: "GPs have the tools. There are clear symptoms, there is a clear screening programme and if a patient visits their doctor with what are symptoms of bowel cancer they should have the confidence they are going to be referred quickly."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for tough action to tackle an "unacceptable" postcode lottery in the care being given to patients with life-threatening illnesses.

He said: "Every single patient in the NHS has a right to the very best care - and to see a GP who can spot cancer symptoms early enough to make a difference.

"That's why we've introduced a rigorous new inspection regime for GP surgeries to tackle this unacceptable variation across the country.

"The new chief inspector will speak up for patients without fear or favour, rating each surgery so we can celebrate the best practices and take tough action where standards aren't up to scratch."

The new data has been published by NHS England as part of a raft of information to help patients work out how well their GP practice is performing.

Mike Bewick, deputy medical director at NHS England, said the level of variation between practices is too wide.

He said the data offered an "important insight for commissioners as to where we should be doing better".

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