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PCTs fall behind on direct GP access to cancer diagnostics

Exclusive: Two-thirds of PCTs have yet to provide GPs with access to the full set of cancer diagnostics identified by the Department of Health as a high priority for 2011/12, despite a central drive to improve cancer survival rates by encouraging earlier diagnosis.

A Pulse investigation across 52 PCTs reveals just 36% have established direct access for chest X-rays, ultrasound, flexible sigmoidoscopy/colonoscopy and brain MRI – listed by the 2011/12 NHS Operating Framework as ‘priority areas for diagnostics'.

For chest X-rays individually, 87% of trusts reported having provided direct access, and 83%  had direct access to ultrasound. But the situation for flexible sigmoidoscopy/colonoscopy and brain MRI was less promising, with 48% and 53% of trusts reporting direct access respectively. Six PCTs reported they had not established direct access to any of the diagnostics, and even among areas with access, some reported GPs did not use the service because of waiting times.

NHS Derby City and NHS Derbyshire County said: ‘Although patients can have these tests by direct access, in a case where cancer is suspected it is unlikely their GP would refer them this way as the wait could be up to six weeks. All suspected cancer patients are therefore put on the two-week wait pathway.'

Professor Greg Rubin, professor of general practice and primary care at Durham University and RCGP cancer diagnosis audit project lead, said: ‘Making open access to diagnostics available is only part of the story because timeliness is also important.'

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