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RCGP warns of cancer diagnosis 'complacency'

By Nigel Praities

The chair of the RCGP has warned some GPs are still ‘complacent' over diagnosing cancer, after a new Government report showed massive variation in referral rates across the country.

Speaking at an event looking into the progress of the Cancer Reform Strategy, Professor Steve Field said GPs were failing to refer all patients with suspected cancer for further tests and needed to 'do better'.

‘I think there is complacency among GPs and practitioners generally. My message to GPs is that we need to do better.

'I believe there is a significant event every week in practices, but some of my colleagues believe these events occur as little as every five years - we will change that,' he said.

The comments reopen a long-running debate on GPs' skills in diagnosing cancer. The Cancer Reform report shows great variation in the number of cancers referred by GPs under the two-week wait rule; a fifth in some areas and as low as 7% in others.

It also reveals Government plans for GPs to have direct access to a greater range of diagnostic tools, such as MRI scans and endoscopy, to facilitate earlier diagnosis of cancer.

Cancer tsar Professor Mike Richards said the NHS had ‘tied GPs' hands' by not giving them adequate access to diagnostics in the past for cancer.

‘By giving greater access we will change the threshold at which GPs investigate diagnoses, and we are working on that now,' he said.

Professor Field said he supported these moves, but added: ‘We often feel it was a failure to refer someone and they don't have cancer, but we don't have to refer and always get it right.'

Professor Field also said he agreed with a controversial newspaper interview with Professor Richards last year where in which the cancer tsar reportedly accused GPs of ‘botching' cancer diagnoses – a claim he later denied.

‘I know he was not misquoted and I agree with him', said Professor Field.

Professor Steve Field warns of cancer diagnosis 'complacency'

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