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GPs told to monitor urgent cancer referrals after hospital data blunder

Exclusive: GPs have been told to ‘proactively track' all urgent referrals for suspected cancer after information relating to hundreds of patients was lost by one hospital trust.

NHS managers in London have written to all their GP practices to ask them to review all their two-week referrals for cancer over the past six months, and introduce a ‘safe system' to ensure they track all future referrals.

The advice from NHS North West London comes after ‘data reporting' errors at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust resulted in incomplete records for patients referred under the two-week pathway.

As Pulse first revealed in May, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust was forced to write to GPs to ask for their help in tracking down patients urgently referred for cancer tests, after it was revealed that records detailing whether 1,023 such patients still required treatment were incomplete.

An independent investigation into the trust is looking at the circumstances surrounding 25 patient deaths to assess if they were related to the recording errors.

In the meantime, NHS North West London wrote to all GP practices in May asking for GPs to share some of the responsibility for ensuring a patient referred for an urgent cancer diagnosis is seen.

The letter said: ‘The North West London Clinical Executive Committee has recommended that all practices review systems and processes associated with cancer referrals.'

It added that practices should: ‘Consider the systems used by your practice to proactively track these particular referrals. We will continue to work with the LMC to describe safe systems that you may wish to adopt.'

At a scrutiny meeting held at Westminster council last Thursday. Westminster Council leaders grilled the chief executive of Imperial College's Healthcare NHS Trust, Mark Davis, on the trust's slow response and lack of transparency, but also criticised GPs for failing to track their referrals.

A spokesperson for NHS North West London confirmed that as a ‘safety net' the PCT will encourage the use of systems in which GPs track referrals made to secondary care providers.

He said: ‘We have been working with the LMC to ensure the system provides an additional safety net for the process and a good level of support for patients, without increasing the workload in general practice.'

However, Dr Tony Grewal, medical director of Londonwide LMCs, said the failures of a hospital trust should not mean burdensome systems were going to be imposed on GPs.

He said: ‘It would be dangerous to divert the responsibility in the referral pathway from the trust that is being referred to. If a trust can't run its own referral pathway then it's not fit for purpose. GPs have got enough work to do.'

A GMC spokesperson told Pulse that GPs should have systems in place which ensure that they know what is going on with their patients so they are kept up to date if a key piece of information about them, such as an important test result, is missing.

Advice on 2WW referrals

Review all 2-week referrals over the last six months to ensure patients have been seen, investigated and treated where necessary.

Consider the systems used by your practice to proactively track these particular referrals. We will continue to work with the LMC to describe safe systems that you may wish to adopt.

Source: NHS North West London

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