GPs can stop thousands of cancer deaths with better access to diagnostics, says NICE

NICE has emphasised the importance of GPs being given direct access to key diagnostic tests to help drive earlier diagnosis of cancers and improve survival rates.

A quality standard published by NICE calls for GPs to have direct access to cancer diagnostics, stating the move would be cost-effective and ‘will reduce the time to reach a diagnosis’.

The updated quality standard, which replaces guidance released last year, is expected to help slash time to cancer diagnosis and improve the proportion of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 and 2.

It takes into account research showing 10,000 lives in England could be saved every year if cancer was diagnosed earlier.

The revised guidance comes just months after GPonline revealed that more than half of GPs do not have direct access to MRI or CT scans. GPs are being denied access to these vital tools for detecting cancer despite recommendations from a government cancer taskforce that the profession should be handed access to six key scans - including CT and MRI, by the end of 2015.

Cancer diagnostics

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, said: ‘In this quality standard we’re highlighting the need to give GPs the ability to refer patients directly for key tests such as MRI, X-ray and CT scans for suspected cancer so we can make that process even faster.

‘We also want to ensure that everyone who is referred for further tests attends their appointment as this could be vital for a swift diagnosis but also because missed appointments delays other patients and wastes precious NHS resources.

‘We have also highlighted tests for suspected oesophageal or stomach cancer and colorectal cancer that could make a big difference to patients’ chances.’

Macmillan head of policy Duleep Allirajah said: ‘We are pleased to see NICE taking action to improve earlier diagnosis of cancer, particularly through GPs having direct access to key diagnostic tests.

GP consultation

‘A GP is usually the first clinician a person will see if they have any symptoms so it’s vital they are equipped to test people as early as possible to ensure the best chance of survival.

‘This guidance is a very positive step in the right direction but won’t be enough on its own; we need to see more investment in diagnostic services and relevant training for healthcare professionals.’

GPonline also revealed earlier this year that one in three GPs had an urgent cancer scan blocked or downgraded to non-urgent in the previous 12 months.

Photo: iStock

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