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Health Foundation cancer report shows need for support in primary care to improve early diagnosis says BMA

Responding to the Health Foundation’s ‘Unfinished business’ report1, which shows that cancer survival rates in Britain are below that of comparable countries in Europe and around the world, Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said:

“While improvements may have been made in recent years, doctors and patients alike will be dismayed to see that Britain is still lagging behind our neighbours in Europe and beyond when it comes to cancer survival rates.

“As this report notes, early diagnosis and intervention are key to maximising chances of survival, and this relies both on patients recognising symptoms and being encouraged to visit their GP as early as possible, and a streamlined system that supports GPs in making timely referrals. 

“While we appreciate the pressures that many commissioners find themselves under, they should be encouraging this process, rather than frustrating it, so that all patients who need a referral for further investigation get one.

“GPs need rapid access to diagnostic services, such as MRI or CT scans, and, where appropriate, certain patients should be able to directly access tests themselves where clinical evidence supports this. All GPs should have the option to refer patients with relevant symptoms directly for investigations to be then followed up by a consultation with a specialist. One-stop clinics can also be helpful, so that patients get the tests and results on the same day. This can cut waiting times drastically, meaning cancer, if present, can be found and treated earlier, and at the very least alleviating some of the anxiety of not knowing for patients.

 “Of course, there must be adequate capacity to meet this demand in secondary care too, so investment in the workforce and equipment is needed across the NHS if the UK is really serious about closing the gap in survival rates.

“Prevention is also better than cure, and, as this report recognises, cuts in funding for public health services that tackle the lifestyle causes of many types of cancer – including obesity, smoking and alcohol intake – must be urgently reversed.” 


Notes to editors

The British Medical Association (BMA) is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.

  1. Read the full report on the Health Foundation's website.

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