Patients self-referring for cancer tests will overload NHS, warns GPC

Patients could soon bypass GPs and self-refer for cancer diagnostic testing, under NHS England plans that GP leaders fear will 'create more problems than they solve'.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul: warning over cancer self-referral
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: warning over cancer self-referral

Plans to improve early cancer diagnosis will see NHS England trialling initiatives including patients being able to book diagnostic tests directly, lower referral thresholds for GPs, and multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres where patients can have several tests in one day.

But the proposals risk being ‘counterproductive’, GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul told GP.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘There is a huge risk of this being counterproductive if patients clog up investigations unnecessarily and make it more difficult for more appropriate patients to receive investigations.

‘At the moment, this is only a headline – we don’t know what sorts of investigations patients would self-refer to, so we need to know more in more detail what the NHS England plans involve. But they need to be very careful that this doesn’t end up creating more problems than it intends to solve.’

Resource pressures

Self-referral will increase demand for services that are already stretched, Dr Nagpaul said. ‘In some places there are already long delays for patients to receive an investigation, and simply opening the floodgates of self-referral will only exacerbate this.’

Pilot tests will be run across more than 60 sites in the UK and initiatives could be implemented on a wider scale from 2016/17, NHS England has said.

A taskforce is also being set up to develop a five-year action plan to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment, and will include the RCGP, cancer charities, Public Health England and local councils.

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘The taskforce will be an essential platform for us to look into innovative ways to speed up cancer diagnoses. Giving GPs direct, rapid access to diagnostic tools such as CT and MRI scans and ultrasound is something that the RCGP has long been calling for and could make a real difference to our patients’ lives.

'It is important that the taskforce will explore ways to support GPs and their teams in this difficult and complex role, at a time when GPs are struggling with growing demand and unprecedented workforce and resource pressures.'

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