The NHS advisory body, NICE has issued draft guidance encouraging GPs to double the amount of cancer referrals in a bid to catch the disease earlier and save more lives.
According to NICE, as many as 10,000 people die every year because of late cancer diagnosis. As reported by the BBC, an NHS survey conducted in 2013 suggested that 25 per cent of patients eventually diagnosed with cancer had to visit their doctor at least three times before being referred to a hospital.
Dr. Maureen Baker from The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has argued that GPs are already “doing a very good job” of referring patients and that “an average GP may only see eight cases of cancer for every 8,000 patients, yet 75% of referrals made after one or two GP consultations lead to positive diagnosis.”
Both she and Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, Sara Hiom, agreed that the guidance was a welcome step, but that better access to diagnostic tests such as MRI, CT and ultrasound scans were needed to make a “real difference”.
Currently, around 1.2 million patients are referred to hospitals every year for suspected cancer symptoms. If the guidance was to be implemented, this could increase to 2 million.
Natasha Peets, RIG Locums’ locum oncology recruitment specialist, commented on the potential impact these recommendations could have on the need for oncology doctors:
“Whilst any guidance to improve cancer survival rates is a welcome step, if NICE’s guidance is carried out, steps must be taken to ensure that there are enough radiology and oncology doctors on hand to be able to deal with the increased number of patients.
Already, we are seeing a huge demand for locum radiologists and oncology doctors due to a shortage of permanent doctors in these areas and receive requests for them on a weekly basis and these locum positions tend to take longer to fill compared to other locum specialisms such as general medicine.
One would hope that by catching the disease earlier the number of serious and advanced cases would decrease, relieving demand for senior oncology doctors and consultants, which are often much harder to find.”
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