Nearly 2,500 people might still be alive if GPs had referred them for urgent cancer tests, research has found.

The urgent referral pathway was introduced in England in 2000 and allows patients with cancer symptoms to undergo diagnostic tests within two weeks of a GP referral.

But an investigation conducted by Kings College London shows GPs are failing to use this service, resulting in unnecessary deaths.

Data from over 8,000 general practices in England was analysed, looking at the relationship between urgent referrals and cancer survival rates between 2009 and 2013.

Only one in six practices were deemed to have a high use of the pathway. The death rates of practices who used it the least were 7% greater than those who regularly accessed the fast-track service.

It is estimated that this has led to around 2,400 unnecessary cancer deaths.

The findings are at odds with the new NHS cancer strategy, which aims to increase diagnostic tests by 80%.

It is hoped this will improve cancer survival rates in England, which are currently the worst in Western Europe.

There are concerns that family doctors will still not use the pathway, with certain parts of the country actually rewarding GPs who reduce the number of cancer referrals.

“Priority for healthcare systems”

Professor Henrik Moller, from King’s College London, said urgent referrals would improve cancer survival rates.

“Achieving an earlier diagnosis of cancer at a less advanced stage is a public concern and has become a widely adopted priority for healthcare systems”, he said.

“It is generally assumed that the more promptly a diagnosis of cancer is made, the better is the prognosis, because cancer detected at an earlier stage has better treatment options leading to improved survival.”

“General practices that consistently have a low propensity to use urgent referrals could consider increasing the use of this pathway to the survival of their patients with cancer.”

Delayed diagnosis of cancer

If doctors failed to refer you or your family member for cancer tests, despite the presence of symptoms, there could be a breach of duty.

If this delay adversely affected the prognosis, there could be grounds for a compensation claim. Please get in touch for more information.

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