Patients in Wales at risk as consultants downgrade cancer referrals

The lives of patients in Wales are being put at risk, because consultants can downgrade cancer referrals without discussion with GPs.

Following an urgent suspected cancer referral, a patient is supposed to see a specialist within two weeks.

But Dr Ian Millington, a GP in Swansea, said that one of his patients was not seen for nine weeks, because the consultant did not feel her case was that urgent. 

When eventually examined, she was diagnosed with an inoperable throat tumour.

Dr Millington said that, although the patients' symptoms were relatively minor, ‘knowing her as I did, I knew her reports of minor symptoms were enough to create anxiety'. 

He said he was disturbed a consultant had de-prioritised a patient in this way without talking to the referring GP first. ‘It wouldn't have saved this patient's life,' he said.

‘But it might save others.' Poor communication by consultants was an ‘ongoing problem', he added. 

The legislation which implements the two-week target was phrased differently in different parts of the UK. Consultants in Wales can reclassify the urgency of a case, while consultants in England cannot.

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