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GPs’ time constraints 'put patients off asking about cancer symptoms'

Some patients are putting off having potential cancer symptoms checked out because they worry their GP is too busy and they should not bother them unless symptoms seem serious, a study has found.

Researchers interviewed around 60 patients aged over 50, who were experiencing cancer ‘alarm’ symptoms, and found in many cases patients worried about wasting their GP’s time because they knew doctors at the surgery were particularly busy, for example because of long waiting times for appointments.

One patient said that ‘if you have to wait a week for an appointment anyway they are obviously very busy, and that sort of thing would worry me, I wouldn’t want to waste a GP’s time’.

Another said: ‘Like with most of the surgeries, it’s difficult to get an appointment with a local GP. So you think, I won’t bother them, I won’t bother them.’

Patients also worried about asking about taking up too much of the GP’s time or asking about too many things within a 10-minute appointment, researchers from University College London and the University of Surrey report in the British Journal of General Practice.

The team writes that, while patients largely took into account how serious they felt their symptoms were, ‘awareness of time and resource constraints by the GP and the NHS also influenced patients’ perception of wasting their GP’s time’.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: ‘GPs always want to see patients with worrying symptoms as soon as possible. There’s pressure on getting appointments across the country, and the next available routine slot might be some time off.

‘But if the patient can’t wait that long, many surgeries give other options – a same day appointment or the option of a telephone consultation.’

Br J Gen Pr 2016; available online 24 May 2016

Readers' comments (6)

  • How many went on to have cancer?

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  • 60 patient survey, feel the BJGP power!

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  • The patients are lying in order to cover up their own failings. Let's face it, most of us worry more about being tested and told we have cancer, than we do about sticking our heads in the sand and pretending the symptoms must be something else. It's a common human behaviour to be frightened of having it confirmed. It's well known for decades that people put off going to the doc because they are frightened of what they will be told.

    How convenient then, to be able to blame someone else for it than to accept responsibility for our own weakness and fear.

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  • Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK's GP Expert-
    How do I get to be a GP Expert?
    I have definitely done 10,000 hours!

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  • Thats strange because most of my patients think their 2 week long cough is lung cancer and their 4 day headache is a brain tumour. "Can I have a scan"...........

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  • this article certainly meets the standards of bjgp. no surprises here.
    so they interviewed 60 people and there were only two comments worth, or coherent enough, to be put in the report?

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