GPs are instructed to send patients suspected of having cancer DIRECTLY for scans to speed diagnosis

GPs have been ordered to send thousands more patients directly for scans, speeding up cancer diagnosis and freeing up hundreds of thousands of hospital appointments.

Health chiefs want GPs to bypass hospital doctors and request more ultrasounds, brain MRIs and CT scans themselves.

Currently, people with vague symptoms have to wait a long time for an appointment with a specialist, diagnostic tests and their first treatment.

But the new guidance tells GPs to use their clinical judgment and order more scans for symptoms like cough, fatigue and dizziness — without going through a middleman first.

It is expected to reduce the typical wait time for a routine diagnosis from around 12 weeks to four weeks and free up hundreds of thousands of hospital appointments.

Health chiefs want GPs to bypass hospital doctors and request more ultrasounds, brain MRIs and CT scans themselves

Health chiefs want GPs to bypass hospital doctors and request more ultrasounds, brain MRIs and CT scans themselves

Health chiefs want GPs to bypass hospital doctors and request more ultrasounds, brain MRIs and CT scans themselves

About 67,000 cancer cases a year – one in five – are discovered after routine testing following a non-urgent referral, meaning people are facing unnecessary delays.

The new policy applies to vague symptoms that fall outside of the current two-week referral target, which is when GPs have a stronger suspicion of cancer.

There have been guidelines since 2012 telling GPs they have the right to refer patients directly for scans, but NHS England is now pushing the issue to get more people diagnosed with cancer in the earliest stages.

The 2012 guidelines, Direct Access to Diagnostic Tests for Cancer, said chest X-rays, ultrasound, flexible sigmoidoscopy and MRI of the brain were “priority areas” to which GPs should have free access.

However, some GPs have been unable to make the bookings or have been prevented from doing so by local health chiefs or hospital bosses.

Now NHS England is trying to standardize the approach so regions that may not have access to all tests can get them.

His guidance also allows GP teams to use a broader set of tests to end the zip code lottery.

In 2014, research by GP Online found that local health leaders prevented GPs from directly ordering the scans.

It found that many clinical mandate groups recommend GPs to redirect patients through specialized services, with one in 10 denying GPs direct access to scans outright.

Some hospitals have shown that direct referrals from GPs can reduce waiting times.

In 2018, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust showed that direct access to CT scans for suspected lung cancer resulted in patients waiting an average of 29 days from 66 days between referral and treatment.

Speaking at the NHS Providers Conference in Liverpool today, NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “GPs are already referring a record number of patients for urgent cancer referrals, so the shortage of people coming in for cancer screening caused by the pandemic has now been addressed .

“This new initiative builds on those advances and will help GPs offer more testing opportunities to people with vague symptoms across the country.

Why is the NHS doing less but costing you MORE?

Hospitals are still doing fewer surgeries and scans each month than they did before Covid, despite receiving billions more in taxpayer money.

Analysis shows that the UK Health Service performed 600,000 fewer procedures in the first nine months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019.

The slump in activity, noted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has been logged despite its budget growing by nearly £30billion over the same period and fewer people than expected queuing for treatment.

IFS economists suggested health bosses will now struggle to deliver on their pre-pandemic promise to increase capacity by 30 per cent from 2024 – which the NHS has been given an extra £10billion a year until 2025 to tackle take.

The overall waiting list – already at an all-time high of 7.1 million – could continue to rise “well beyond next year” if the NHS does not ramp up its activity, it said.

Think tanks told MailOnline that those looking at NHS productivity would think Covid was “still raging”, arguing the pandemic cannot explain why the backlog “kept growing at such a rapid pace”.

Taxpayers pouring “unprecedented amounts of money” into healthcare are “tired of hearing excuses,” they said, and are demanding that “wastefully paid management” be held accountable.

Facing a ‘triple pandemic’ of Covid, flu and the A&E crisis this winter, the NHS says it needs a further £7billion due to inflation.

It is also grappling with a striking workforce, with unions planning to coordinate strikes by hundreds of thousands of workers this winter in a bid for better wages and working conditions.

“By sending patients directly for testing, we can detect and treat more cancers at an earlier stage and help us meet the ambition of our long-term NHS plan to diagnose three-quarters of cancers at stages one or two when they are easier to treat. ‘

dr Katharine Halliday, President of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: “For a cancer patient, every day counts. Faster diagnosis means less invasive treatments, better recovery, and better outcomes.”

Louise Ansari, National Director of Healthwatch England, added: “People are telling us that if they have worrying symptoms, they need quicker and easier access to diagnostic tests, either to give them reassurance there is nothing wrong or to catch problems early on to recognize them so they can have a treatment plan put in place.

“This new initiative will give every GP practice in the country much greater flexibility in ordering tests and scans for their patients.

“Ultimately, we hope this will help diagnose people with cancer as early as possible, leading to better quality care and better long-term survival rates.”

From 2023/24, GPs will have direct access to an even wider range of tests to diagnose conditions not related to cancer.

Kruti Shrotri, Head of Policy at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer that is diagnosed and treated at an early stage is more likely to be treated successfully, so we welcome this announcement from the NHSE which will help make the diagnosis easier for patients to accelerate.

“But as capacity is drawn from community diagnostic centers that are still under construction, it is important that they are protected from funding cuts at the fall statement this Thursday to ensure everyone benefits from these potentially life-saving tests.”

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said GPs are already doing a good job of appropriately referring patients with suspected cancer.

“However, there will be patients who may not meet the criteria for rapid referral and have vague symptoms that could be cancer but tend to be less serious common conditions,” he said.

“In these situations, direct access to diagnostic services can be helpful.

“GPs want to ensure their patients are diagnosed in a timely manner so that cancer patients can receive the appropriate treatment and cancer patients can have peace of mind.

“That’s why the college has long called for primary care physicians to have greater access to diagnostic testing in the community, and while the devil is in the details of how it will work in practice, today’s announcement is a positive step.”

He said that ultimately, improving cancer diagnosis will require increasing the workforce across the NHS, including primary care.

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