Skipping GPs to speed up cancer checks will put patients at risk, BMA warns

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Wednesday 16 August 2023
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Responding to comments by the Health Secretary in today’s Telegraph that patients could ‘skip’ seeing a GP to speed up cancer checks, Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, chair of GPC England at the BMA, said:  

“Any patient who has suspicious symptoms of a potential cancer diagnosis must get the treatment they need, as soon as possible.

"It might sound like a seductively simple plan to bypass the GP and go for a diagnostic test, but as a GP, my priority when triaging appointment requests in surgery is to look for these 'red flags' and bring the patient in as soon as possible, usually the same day. Like with the rest of the overwhelmed NHS, triage is essential - and GPs are expert generalists who have trained for years to know when a patient needs to be referred for cancer or if it could be something else.

"This suggestion might sound like a good idea, but it will rapidly overwhelm radiology departments, and lead to even longer waiting lists for scans, and potential missed diagnoses - putting yet more pressure on the NHS.

"I'm also worried that the Health Secretary hasn’t detailed where these diagnostic centres will be, and who will staff them. There is only one workforce, and we can’t magic up additional radiographers or radiologists out of thin air, just like we can’t magic up GPs; we have lost more than 2,000 full-time, fully-qualified GPs since 2015 and the way things are, this will only get worse.

“The priority for such an overwhelmed NHS has to be safety. And GPs are integral to safe cancer referral processes – removing us from the equation risks patients falling through the net and those without cancer being put on the pathway by mistake, or missed altogether. It's a no-brainer that waiting lists need to be tackled, and I look forward to meeting the Health Secretary to explain how we might be able to help shape his ideas in a way that will help keep patients safe.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.