GPs to get powers to refer suspected cancer patients for tests

In collaboration with Adfero

Patients with suspected cancer are to get faster access to diagnostic tests, under new government proposals announced by Andrew Lansley today (December 14th).

The health secretary unveiled the plans at the 'Britain Against Cancer' conference, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer.

At present, doctors who suspect a patient may have cancer usually have to refer them to a specialist for diagnostic tests, such as ultrasounds, MRI scans and colonoscopies.

But the government wants to speed the process up by improving access to tests in primary care.

The move means that GPs would be able to order these tests themselves, although they will still have the option to send patients to see a specialist within two weeks under the rapid referral system.

Ministers have set aside £25 million from the NHS budget to fund up to 150,000 extra tests in 2011-12.

It is hoped that the measure will help to improve England's survival rates from cancer, which are currently lagging behind many other countries.

Mr Lansley said: "Cancer affects us all. Everyone will have a story of someone they love battling the disease. In those instances we need to know that the NHS will be there for us. Our ambition is simple, to deliver survival rates among the best in the world.

"Earlier diagnosis is key to this, which is why we will be prioritising this area in the forthcoming Operating Framework. To achieve our aim we must place faith in those on the frontline, not micro-manage from Whitehall. These plans will provide clinicians with access to the resources they need to deliver the outcomes patients and families deserve."

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "We warmly welcome the government's commitment to tackling late diagnosis through a package of measures, including providing GPs with better access to much needed diagnostic tests that will enable cancer patients to be treated more quickly and effectively.

"Diagnosing patients earlier is second only to reducing smoking rates in terms of the number of lives that could be saved from cancer. If we could diagnose cancers as early as the best countries in the world, we could avoid more than 10,000 deaths a year. Our cancer research in the UK is the best in the world, but our survival rates are not. These measures will start to address the gap."