GPs lack research on cancer referral

The DoH has been accused of failing to fund research that would help GPs distinguish cancer from benign disease.

The accusation follows a report from the House of Commons' public accounts committee (PAC) showing that, in 2004, 40 per cent of patients eventually diagnosed with cancer waited more than two weeks to see a specialist after GP referral, even though 99 per cent of patients referred urgently saw a specialist within two weeks.

The committee called on the DoH to 'work with GPs to reduce waiting times by improving the ability of GPs to identify symptomatic patients more promptly'.

East Yorkshire GP Dr Nick Summerton, who has a special interest in cancer, had recommended research to help GPs spot early malignant disease in 2000 when he was involved in DoH guidelines on cancer referral. He agreed with the committee's call for research.

'I refused to be involved in the NICE guidance on suspected cancer because the DoH has not commissioned any of the research needed by GPs,' he said.

Dr Summerton wants research distinguishing when common symptoms are more likely to mean cancer.

'The NICE report on suspected cancer just re-jigged the original guidance,' he said. 'Information for referral needs to be based on research on the primary care population and not on cancer patients seen in outpatient clinics.'

The report also says that provision of adequate palliative care was 'patchy'

This should be reduced by including two new indicators for palliative care in the quality framework, said Somerset GP Dr Greg Tanner, a PCT cancer lead and Macmillan GP.

'The development of palliative care services in the community will be accelerated by the new requirement to maintain a register of patients who require palliative care and to hold regular reviews,' he said.

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