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GPs' success with two-week rule

GPs are referring patients needing urgent treatment for breast cancer more accurately since the introduction of the two-week wait rule, a study has found.

But too many cases of benign breast disease are still being referred as urgent, which is pushing up waiting times for routine referrals.

Researchers at the breast unit of Ashford Hospital in Kent compared an eight-month period of new GP referrals in 2003/4 with a similar audit in 1999.

The study, published in Breast (April), found 68 per cent of breast cancer cases were referred urgently in the later audit compared with 47 per cent five years earlier.

The proportion of cancer patients referred as non-urgent fell from 53 per cent to 32 per cent.

However, the researchers found that as the overall proportion referred as urgent increased, so did the number of patients with benign breast disease, and waiting times for routine referrals were significantly longer ­ 23 days in 2004 compared with 15 days in 1999.

Study leader Dr Anne Imkampe, SHO in the unit, said urgent referral of benign cases was still a 'significant' problem.

'There is a suspicion that some GPs refer patients with benign breast disease as urgent to reduce their waiting times,' she said.

She attributed the increase in urgent referrals to the use of proformas which followed national referral guidelines.

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