It has been reported that patients with suspected cases of cancer are being refused important tests by managers in a bid to meet waiting time targets.
Senior doctors have warned that some patients are being told that they don’t qualify for the two-week track, and consequently are sometimes not seen for six months. Many of these patients are later confirmed as having cancer and campaigners are warning that the lengthy delays in their diagnosis are putting lives at risk.
Cancer survival rates in the UK are significantly lower than elsewhere in Europe, something which has partly been attributed to GPs missing the early warning signs of cancer and not referring patients for tests.
However, an investigation commissioned by Pulse magazine has found that, more and more, doctors are having referrals ‘bounced back’ by managers who say that patients are unlikely to be suffering with cancer and can wait longer.
Duleep Allirajah, of the charity Macmillan Cancer Support, told the Daily Mail: “When GP’s suspect cancer or want to access more diagnostic tests it is essential they are able to do this easily and quickly.
“It’s simply not good enough that some people with cancer face waits of up to 25 weeks following an urgent GP referral.
“Delays mean that thousands of people with cancer must put their lives on hold while waiting for vital treatment – causing anxiety, distress and putting their lives at serious risk.
“Each individual hospital has a responsibility to meet waiting time targets.
“This is yet again another clear warning sign that the system isn’t working and the NHS is under huge strain.”
NHS guidelines state that GPs must refer patients urgently for hospital scans and tests without two weeks if they suspect it is cancer. In doing this, doctors send a form to the appropriate person, detailing the symptoms and more information on why they believe that the patient might be suffering with a particular tumour. Hospital staff are then expected to schedule the patient in for an appointment with the appropriate consultant specialist who will go on to arrange a scan.
However, doctors are now suspecting that managers at Clinical Commissioning Groups are trying to limit the number of referrals to make sure that their hospital hits the targets given to them, avoiding fines.
The hospital managers in question do not have the medical expertise to assess the situation and will instead be turning patients away simply by looking through their form.
Jeremy Hunt said earlier this year that he pledged to name and shame on the NHS Choices website the GP surgeries that were referring very little patients for cancer scans.
Furthermore, the health watchdog NICE last month urged family doctors to refer their patients for tests even if they are suffering with seemingly ordinary symptoms such as cough, tiredness or bleeding just in case it is cancer. However, such efforts will prove futile if their referrals are sent back by managers.