Health inequalities extend to cancer diagnosis - and this must be addressed

The College responds to new research from QualityWatch, a joint programme from the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, showing ethnic minorities and young people require more visits to the GP before being diagnosed with cancer.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Ensuring patients receive timely and appropriate referrals for suspected cancers is a priority for GPs – and to this end, they are doing a good job, making more urgent referrals and ensuring more cancers are being diagnosed at an early stage than ever.  

“Whilst GPs are highly-trained to identify cancers, this remains challenging in primary care, not least and particularly with some cancers, because the symptoms are often vague and typical of other, more common conditions. This will particularly be the case in young people, as the risk of cancer will be much smaller, which goes someway to explaining this element of this research. But it also makes clear that health inequalities, and impact of them, extend to cancer diagnosis – and this must be addressed. 

“First, we want to see better access for GPs to diagnostics right across the country, which will further inform our decision to refer, and help us to do so appropriately. 

“Second, we know that practices in areas of high deprivation have a higher workload, more acute workforce pressures and less funding than those in less deprived areas, so we want to see more resources and targeted initiatives for these areas to enable them to provide patient care. Our general election manifesto outlines ways to do this, including more investment into recruitment and retention schemes and cuts to unnecessary bureaucracy - this will not only make it easier for patients to access GP care, but it will allow GPs to spend more time with their patients, and have the conversations necessary to consider less likely diagnoses. 

“We would also urge anyone who is concerned that they have symptoms that may potentially be signs of cancer to make an appointment to see their GP.”

Further information

RCGP press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editors

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.