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Cancer rules let GPs down

Further doubts have been cast on NICE's controversial rules for two-week referral of suspected cancer in a report from the Government watchdog the National Audit Office.

Sir John Bourne, head of the NAO, said GPs needed better guidance to bring UK cancer survival in line with the best countries in Europe.

Cancer mortality fell by 12 per cent between 1971 and 2002 and five-year cancer survival rates are now 36 per cent for men and 49 per cent for women, according to the report.

But patients in England are being diagnosed with more advanced disease than those in other European countries that have better survival rates, it said.

A combination of factors was to blame, including patients putting off consulting their GP about suspicious symptoms and GPs delaying making onward referrals.

'Those patients most strongly suspected by GPs of having cancer are now assessed promptly,' said Sir John. 'But a significant proportion of those with cancer have not been referred urgently and have had to wait a significant number of weeks for assessment.'

Professor David Haslam, chair of the RCGP, said: 'While GPs should share the credit for the very significant recent improvements in detection and survival, we welcome the report's acknowledgement of the difficulties GPs can face in early diagnosis'.

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