GPs take cancer referrals incredibly seriously

Responding to the latest BMJ research about the number of patients referred for urgent cancer investigations.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "GPs understand the importance of identifying cancer in a timely way in order to achieve the best health outcomes for patients. They are doing a good job of appropriately referring patients with 75% of those found to have cancer, referred after only one or two GP consultations.

"The study looks at data from 2014-15 - since then, new cancer guidance [NG12] has been published and referrals via the urgent two-week referral pathway increased by nearly 44% up to 2019-20. Additionally, the percentage of cancer diagnoses made through this urgent pathway has increased from 48.4% in 2014-5 to 54% in 2019-20. This is against a backdrop of increasing workload and falling GP numbers over the same period.

"What the research does show is the importance of clinical judgement in making a decision to refer. GPs follow clinical guidance to ensure that referrals are appropriate and are sensitive to the risks of over-referring patients because this would risk overloading specialist services and would not be helpful to patients or the NHS. GPs find themselves in a position where they are criticised for referring both too much and too little: what would help is better access to diagnostic tools in the community and additional training to use them and interpret the results, so that better informed referrals can be made.

"GPs and our teams are currently working under intense workload and workforce pressures but referring patients they suspect of having cancer is something they take incredibly seriously. Nearly half a million two-week wait referrals have been made between 29 June to 23 August this year. The Government needs to demonstrate its public support for general practice and urgently take steps to make good on their promise of 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 more members of the practice team – as well as introducing measures to tackle ‘undoable’ workload in general practice.”

Further information

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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.