RCGP response to BJGP study on cancer referrals during pandemic

Responding to a study in the British Journal of General Practice on cancer diagnosis and referrals during the pandemic, Dr Gary Howsam, Vice Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

"Against a backdrop of increasing workload and falling GP numbers, overall referrals by GPs through rapid suspected cancer pathways are 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels. What’s more, more than 75% of patients who are found to have cancer are being referred after just one or two consultations, showing that GPs are doing a good job at identifying suspected cancers and referring appropriately.

“During the pandemic, GPs adopted new ways of working to protect our patients and staff from the virus and allow us to continue to deliver vital care in a safe way. There was a drop in cancer referrals by GPs at the start of the pandemic, which research shows was mainly due to people following official guidance to stay at home. But referral rates are now consistently exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

"Consulting remotely has benefits. For many patients, remote consultations are convenient and make accessing care and services easier. But as this study suggests, they are not suitable for all health needs. This is why GPs and our teams continued to see patients in person throughout the pandemic, and why almost two thirds of consultations are currently being delivered in this way.

"Face to face consulting is a core part of general practice, but safe and appropriate care can be delivered remotely, and the College has been clear that moving forward we would like to see GP care and services delivered in various ways, based on the health needs of the individual patient.

“If a patient is concerned about their health or has symptoms that could be signs of cancer, we would urge them to seek medical assistance. We urgently need to see action from government to provide GPs and our teams with the necessary resources to improve the early detection of cancer. Including a sufficient workforce, and better access to diagnostic testing in the community, to ensure these patients receive the diagnosis and treatment that they need quickly.”

Further information

RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.