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Number of GP referrals for suspected cancer up 12% in one year

Efforts to boost early detection has seen a 12% increase in suspected cancer referrals from Welsh GPs in the past year.

The Welsh Government said investment to support early diagnosis meant there were more than 8,000 referrals from GPs in 2015/16.

Over the past five years, the report pointed to a ‘huge increase’ in urgent GP referrals, of 56%.

Yet too many patients are still diagnosed through the emergency route, the the Welsh Government's annual cancer report warned.

It went on to outline a range of measures to boost early detection further, including increasing patient awareness, improving access to GPs and rapid access to diagnostic tests.

Programmes already in place include new referral routes for patients with non-specific systems and automatic CT referral for patients with suspicious chest X-ray results.

The number of new cases of cancer is rising by around 1.5% a year in Wales.

Although mortality rates are starting to drop, the report says changes in cancer incidence and a growing elderly population has led to a 7% increase in cancer-related deaths.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said they had expected to see a rise in referrals for suspected cancer from GPs after NICE lowered the threshold in 2015.

‘More people are being referred, at a lower threshold of risk, in order to detect a greater number of cancer at earlier stages.

‘There are however other reasons for an increase in referrals, including a national focus on earlier detection of cancer and our growing, ageing population.’

But they added that far too many people are still being diagnosed through other routes.

Our refreshed Cancer Delivery Plan highlights action that NHS Wales is taking – including raising public awareness of symptoms, improved referral practices among GPs and better access to diagnostic testing - to ensure wherever possible cancer is detected at the earliest possible stage.

‘Over time we expect this to reduce the number of patients diagnosed on the outside of the urgent suspected cancer pathway.’

GPC Wales chair Dr Charlotte Jones said: 'The early detection of cancer as a priority for GPs is not a new one, with practitioners using their judgement to refer patients who exhibit symptoms.'

But she added that for patients to gain faster access to specialist assessment where it is needed 'access to GP services is crucial' and therefore workload issues facing Welsh GPs needed to be addressed.

She said: 'In addition, GPs need timely access to the requisite diagnostics that a patient needs and have raised concerns about the time to treatment that patients experience, even after an urgent referral has been sent.'

Readers' comments (5)

  • just watch them then say that GPs are referring too much and the hospital can't cope!

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  • I recently had a case where the patient had non-specific symptoms, several fairly intriguing biochemical yet subtle abnormalities and a finding on the FBC that had me thinking hard.I saw the patient several times to pursue and evaluate each of these and concluded that an occult neoplasm was present.It took 2 sequential 2 week wait referrals to 2 different disciplines to get the required test (CT of thorax/abdomen/pelvis) which proved my suspicion correct. The troubling aspect of this case was that neither of the specialists passed any kind of comment on the anomalies I outlined in the referral letter nor even attempted to explain them. The scan findings explained everything that was present on the blood tests.

    I hope when I am bestowed with the title of Specialist the powers that be allow me access to CT scanning.I find it demeaning to have to go cap in hand to a specialist to get such a test done particularly when they appear to ignore the rationale for needing it doing.

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  • where is the joined up thinking. Are we to increase or decrease referrals???

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  • Dear All,
    Does no one rad teh numbers? Actual cancer detection rate rising by 1.5% per year. Suspected cancer referrrals rising by 12%.
    WHat does that tel you?
    Paul C

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  • David Banner

    2WW referrals are another stick to beat us with. If a cancer is eventually diagnosed following a routine referral, you are in medico-legal hot water no matter how vague the initial symptoms were. But if we all play safety first and swamp OPD with 2WW referrals the system will collapse and the wait for routine referrals will grow exponentially. If retrospective medico-legal action could be curbed, we might get back to GPs using clinical acumen, not just covering their arses, not that anyone could blame us in the current toxic climate.

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