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Hospital abandons scheme that delayed two-week cancer referrals

A hospital in Berkshire has stopped returning patients with suspected cancer to their GPs if they were unable to make their first appointment after two-week referral, after apparently reacting following an article in Pulse.

In October we reported that the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust managers were attempting to bounce even urgent referrals back to primary care to avoid breaching waiting-time targets.

Some patients who could not make their first two-week referral appointment, due to other commitments, were made to seek another referral from their GP. Although the hospital trust denied asking GPs to write letters ‘stating that the patient does not need to be seen', it admitted to having urged some two-week referrals to be delayed ‘to achieve the best patient experience'.

But GPs report that Royal Berkshire Hospital has stopped the controversial practice. At a Berkshire LMC meeting in early November, it was claimed Pulse's article 'led to Dr Fielden, medical director of Royal Berkshire Hospital, contacting Dr Paul Roblin who communicated the LMC's concerns'.

According to the LMC, ‘no further RBH letters have been received by GPs since the conversation'.

Dr Roblin, chief executive of Berks, Bucks and Oxon LMCs, said: ‘Since the publicity of this issue the trust seems to have stopped making this request to GPs. Media coverage can sometimes make people come to the negotiating table much more quickly.'

The LMC first raised its concerns in September but said ‘no communication had been received' on the issue'. Dr Fielden reportedly contacted the LMC after Pulse's article saying ‘communication was important', according to the latest committee minutes.

When approached by Pulse, a spokesperson from Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust refused to comment on the change.

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