GPs requested 26% of all tests used to diagnose or discount cancer under direct access arrangements in the 2015/16 financial year, the diagnostic imaging dataset (DID) shows.
This represents a steady rise in access to most tests compared to last year, but leading GPs warned GP access to tests needs to accelerate faster and to become more even across all areas.
Almost half (46%) of all ultrasounds of the pelvis and abdomen to rule out cancer were the result of GP direct referrals, as were close to a third of chest X-rays (28%) and kidney/bladder ultrasounds (28%).
GPs made a smaller contribution to overall brain MRI requests (10%) and chest CT scans (11%).
GPonline has reported before that half of GPs are denied direct access to these tests by their CCG. GPs have also warned that rationing of services is on the rise.
The test requested the most by GPs was chest X-ray, it shows.
GP diagnostic access
The DID collects data monthly on the usage of diagnostic imaging tests such as chest imaging, non-obstetric ultrasound and brain MRI on NHS patients in England.
Assessing GP direct access to these tests forms a key plank of the dataset as part of its mission to monitor how diagnostic imaging can contribute to early diagnosis of cancer.
Comparison to the 2014/15 dataset from the year before shows that the proportion of most tests requested directly by GPs increased marginally.
The proportion of brain MRI, chest/abdomen CT and chest X-ray increased two percentage points. The proportion of abdomen/pelvis ultrasounds remained the same, while kidney/bladder ultrasounds dropped one percentage point.
The DID also shows that the wait time in days from when a test was requested to when it was completed was significantly longer for some tests after GP referral compared to the average wait time, particularly ultrasounds tests.
It adds that this is a consequence of emergency admissions and inpatients – included in the overall average times – having noticeably shorter waits.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘These figures reflect the steady increase in both availability and use of diagnostic tests but they only tell part of the story as in many areas access has been getting worse not better as waiting times for tests have been increasing.
‘There remains a need to not only expand availability but also to improve the responsiveness of imaging services.’