New tests for cancer dispense with GPs

New tests for cancer dispense with GPs

Patients fear they may have cancer will be able to bypass their GP and self-refer for hospital tests under a radical new NHS plan that aims to save 8,000 lives a year. The proposal is part of a five-year strategy by NHS England to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, which will also involve the creation of an independent task force.


New ways to diagnose cancer earlier will be tested in 60 different areas of the country. The scheme is likely to involve patients attending “diagnostic testing units” in community clinics and hospitals, which will decide if tests are needed. The NHS will also lower thresholds for suspected cancer, so patients are more likely to be referred for tests even if symptoms are “vague”.


Last night, David Cameron said Britain “must never rest” in its efforts to improve survival rates, which remain among the worst in Europe. Major international research has found that Britain’s survival rates for almost all common cancers are worse than the European average and experts believe one of the main reasons is because too few cases are detected early.


Officials are concerned that too many cases of cancer are missed, even when patients have seen their GPs. GPs are advised to refer patients for tests if they have a combination of symptoms, but experts fear some are not following guidelines and missing too many cases.


Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said: “Survival rates in England are at an all-time high, but too many patients are still being diagnosed late, up to one in four only when they present in A&E.” He said the NHS must take “a fresh look” at its approach to save “at least 8,000 lives a year”.


A taskforce led by Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, will set out a strategy to improve prevention, speed up diagnosis and provide better treatment and aftercare. A year ago, NHS research involving 8,000 GPs found that 60 per cent had referred less than half of patients who turned out to have cancer within two weeks. Health officials also pledged today to invest £5 m a year in stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), which can target tumours. It came after a campaign by former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio, who branded NHS officials “a national disgrace” when they appeared to backtrack from plans to extend the therapy.


The new programme will mean an extra 750 patients a year can receive the treatment, which will also widen the number of cancers treated with it. The new strategy will be published in the summer. But before then work will start with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, testing new ways to speed up diagnosis in pilots across the country, including London, Manchester, Suffolk, Cumbria and Staffordshire.


More than one in three people in the UK develop cancer and half will now live for at least 10 years. Forty years ago, average survival was a year. Latest statistics show the one-year cancer survival rate in England has increased from 59.7 per cent for adults diagnosed in 1997 to 69.3 per cent.


In 2011, the Improving Outcomes strategy set out plans to save at least 5,000 extra lives a year by 2015, a figure that is on track to be exceeded.The new plan aims to increase the percentage of diagnoses made early from 50 to 60 per cent within five years, the equivalent to 8,000 patients living for an extra five years.


Mr Kumar said the strategy would feed into the next spending review, with extra investment required to improve survival rates. He said the 60 pilots would test a number of approaches, including direct access to tests.


“It’s not about bypassing GPs but finding ways to improve diagnosis where there is poor access to GPs, or symptoms are diffuse,” he said.


He said the average family doctor saw just eight cancer cases a year and also needed more support to identify symptoms.


Mr Dallaglio said: “This project will double the number of patients being treated with SABR, more than double the number of cancers treated and lead the way for patients to be treated within their own regions.”


However, the plans come as major cuts to the number of drugs funded by the NHS for cancer patients are due to be announced.




By Laura Donnelly,


The Telegraph, Sunday 11 Jannuary 2015




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