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‘Clear link’ between number of GP cancer referrals and mortality

People with cancer are more likely to die if their GPs do not regularly send their patients for an urgent referral for suspected cancer within two weeks, according to research.

The research – by Cancer Research UK and National Institute for Health Research – found that the practices that most often used two-week urgent cancer referrals had 7% fewer deaths than those that used it least.

The study, based on data from 215,284 English cancer patients, found that there was variation in how often GPs used the two-week referral guideline, which was introduced in the early 2000s.

Professor Henrik Moller, epidemiologist at King’s College London and lead author of the research, said: ‘This study shows the first link between using the urgent referral route and deaths in cancer patients.’

He added that there’s a fine line to tread between using the urgent referral route regularly and using it too much – which the NHS isn’t equipped to respond to.

However, he said: ’If GP practices which use the two-week route rarely, were to use it more often, this could reduce deaths of cancer patients.’

NHS England has reprimanded CCGs for offering incentives to GPs for cutting down the number of urgent cancer referrals they make, following Pulse’s investigation that found at least two CCGs were rewarding patients for cutting down referrals, including for cancer.

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