In November 2022, a national roll-out of fast-track cancer testing was introduced giving all GPs in England the authority to directly refer patients with potential cancer symptoms for diagnostic tests without them having to be referred to a specialist first.
GPs can refer patients with suspected cancer symptoms using NICE guidelines under an urgent two-week suspected cancer pathway referral. Whether a patient is referred under the pathway depends on the type of suspected cancer and the patient’s symptoms. The aim is for these patients to be seen by a hospital specialist within 2 weeks of a referral, undergo diagnostic tests within 28 days and to start treatment within 62 days.
Previously, patients with potential cancer symptoms who fall outside of the NICE guidelines had to be referred by their GP to hospital specialists who would subsequently decide whether the patient is to undergo diagnostic testing. According to NHS England, around one in five cancer cases are detected after routine testing following referral to a hospital specialist. With waiting lists for hospital appointments currently the longest on record, many of these patients faced significant delays in receiving a cancer diagnosis or the all-clear.
Under the new system, GPs will have the ability to directly refer patients who fall outside of the NICE guidelines with potential cancer symptoms for diagnostic tests such as CT scans, MRI scans or ultrasound scans without the patient having to see a hospital specialist first.
It is well known that cancer is more manageable when diagnosed early. A late diagnosis vastly increases the chance of mortality. It is hoped that the new scheme will enable patients to undergo testing sooner, resulting in earlier cancer diagnoses and treatment. Hundreds of initial hospital appointments could also be freed up under the new scheme, helping to elevate the backlog of hospital appointments in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to NHS England, under the new scheme, “around 67,000 people who are usually diagnosed with cancer through non-urgent testing will now be eligible for fast-tracking – and can have a better chance of having their disease picked up at an earlier stage, when survival chances are higher.”
In response to implementing the new scheme, NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard has stated “By sending patients straight to testing, we can catch and treat more cancers at an earlier stage, helping us to deliver on our NHS Long Term plan’s ambitions to diagnose three-quarters of cancers at stages one or two when they are easier to treat.”
Not all delays in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer are negligent. However, a failure by a GP to reasonably refer patients with symptoms of cancer for further investigations, failing to carry out appropriate tests, or follow up test results could lead to a medical negligence claim if it has resulted in the worsening of a patient’s condition.
If you believe you have suffered a negligent delay in diagnosis or treatment, please contact our Medical Negligence team for a free initial discussion and advice:
Exeter 01392 285000 Cullompton 01884 33818