GPs struggle with waiting times for cancer diagnosis

  • Date: 22 December 2020

A MAJORITY of GPs have reported increased waiting times for cancer diagnostic tests, according to a survey conducted by Cancer Research UK.

The survey of 1,004 UK GPs, which was conducted in October, also found 38 per cent of GPs said their practice was finding it tough to meet demand for remote consultations and 35 per cent said the same for face-to-face appointments – and this was exacerbating the situation.

Among other findings:

  • 75 per cent said waiting times had increased for ultrasounds, which are used in the diagnosis of some gynecological cancers and sarcomas
  • 69 per cent said waits had increased for upper GI endoscopies, used to detect oesophageal cancer
  • 62 per cent said waits had increased for lower GI endoscopies, used to detect bowel cancer
  • 61 per cent said waits had increased for chest X-rays, used to help diagnose lung cancer
  • 55 per cent said waits had increased for blood tests, used to help detect a range of cancers
  • 49 per cent said waits had increased for CT scans, used to detect cancer in the chest, abdomen and pelvis
  • 46 per cent said waits had increased for MRI scans, used to detect brain tumour.

Cancer Research UK cites NHS England diagnostic waiting time data showing that the number of patients waiting six weeks or more for key tests has surged since March. Nine times more people were waiting six weeks or more for an endoscopy test in October 2020 compared to October 2019, although this has improved since the worst point at the end of August.

The number of patients waiting six weeks or more for radiology tests (ultrasounds MRI and CT scans) has dropped since its peak in May but there were still 11 times more people waiting than last year (around 14,000 in October 2019 vs around 150,000 in October 2020).

Dr Jodie Moffat, Cancer Research UK’s head of early diagnosis, said: “GPs and NHS staff have worked incredibly hard during this challenging year to manage the increased strain Covid-19 has put on an already stretched system. But many patients are still a long way off receiving the swift cancer diagnoses that will give them the best chance of being treated successfully, and worryingly we don’t yet know what the long-term impact on cancer stage and survival will be.

“It’s crucial the government uses the cash boost set aside in the spending review for the NHS to sort the backlog of cancer patients.”

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