Direct access to diagnostics will reassure patients - but GP workforce must be increased and given appropriate training and support

The College has responded to NHS England’s latest announcement on providing GPs with direct access to diagnostics for suspected cancers.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs are already doing a good job of appropriately referring patients with suspected cancers. Despite the workload and workforce pressures they are facing, referrals by GPs into the rapid suspected cancer pathways are 20% above pre-pandemic levels. However, there will be patients who might not meet the criteria for rapid referral and have vague symptoms that could be cancer but are more likely to be less serious common conditions. In these situations, direct access to diagnostic services can be helpful.

"GPs want to ensure timely diagnosis for their patients, so that those with cancer can receive the appropriate treatment, and those without can be reassured. This is why the College has long been calling for GPs to have better access to diagnostic testing in the community, and whilst the devil will be in the detail as to how it will work in practice, today’s announcement is a positive step.

“It will be vital that alongside direct access to diagnostics, GPs receive appropriate support and additional training to interpret the test results and that relevant IT systems used for booking tests are integrated into those that GPs already use. We also need assurances that diagnostic hubs are appropriately staffed to cope with increased demand for testing - and that safeguards are put in place to prevent this new system inadvertently adding to the workload of already over-stretched GP teams.

“Ultimately what we need to improve cancer diagnosis is to increase the workforce across the NHS, including in primary care. This is why, as a College we are calling on the Government for a workforce strategy that goes beyond the 6,000 GPs promised, as well as action to address unnecessary bureaucracy in general practice, which keeps GPs away from frontline patient care.”

Further information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 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.