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Cancer targets may delay diagnosis of other conditions, say doctors leaders

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Conservative Party conference
HUNT: Plans to set a four-week limit between referral and diagnosis

‘Simplistic’ new Government cancer targets could lead to slower treatment times and delays in diagnosis for other patients, doctors leaders have warned.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans to guarantee a maximum four-week wait between GP referral and ultimate diagnosis for cancer patients.

But doctors leaders have warned focusing just on cancer treatment would simply lengthen waiting times elsewhere.

BMA GPs committee deputy chair Richard Vautrey said waiting times cannot be tackled in ‘piecemeal fashion’.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘While any reduction in waiting times is to be welcomed, the problem with the narrow focus on cancer is that it has a knock-on effect on lengthening waiting times for other equally serious conditions.

‘It also create perverse care pathways as clinical commissioining groups and trusts focus solely on hitting the cancer-referral targets but patients who are found not to have cancer are just sent back to their GP without any clarity about what is actually the cause of their symptoms.

‘These simplistic targets also mean the many patients with cancer, who present with vague symptoms that are not immediately obviously related to cancer, are referred in slower pathways and so there is a delay in diagnosis for them. It would be far better to address the delays in waiting times as a whole rather than in the piecemeal fashion.’

 

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Mr Hunt first announced the policy during a controversial speech at the Conservative Party conference last week – which also included his pledge to increase medical student training places by 1,500 from September 2018.

Mr Hunt reiterated his plan during health questions in Commons on Tuesday and said the new target would be introduced as part of the STP (sustainability and transformation plan) process – a scheme where health managers and clinicians are drawing up regionally grouped projects reorganising local health services.

He said: ‘The extra money we are putting in to the NHS is going to better cancer care, better mental healthcare and better GP provision.

‘It will also mean that we can support our hospitals better. With our ageing population, we will continue to have great demand for hospital care, but the best way to relieve pressure on those hospitals is to invest in better out-of-hospital care, which has not been done for many years.

‘I can absolutely reassure my right honourable friend on that one of the main purposes of STPs is to make sure we deliver our cancer plan, which will introduce a maximum four-week wait between GP referral and ultimate diagnosis.

'If we get it right, that might result in around 30,000 lives a year being saved, so this is a big priority for every STP.’

Find out more about STPs

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