Half of GPs have been blocked from sending patients for urgent cancer scans, a survey has found.
Family doctors are meant to refer any patient suspected of having cancer for a hospital test within two weeks.
But 46 per cent of GPs said that at least one of their referrals had been blocked or downgraded by cost-cutting staff in the last year.
This leads to patients much waiting longer to be diagnosed with cancer and offered lifesaving treatment.
Family doctors are meant to refer any patient suspected of having cancer for a hospital test within two weeks
One GP said he had repeatedly tried to refer a child for urgent hospital tests for blood cancer, but was turned down by hospital doctors.
Eventually the tests were carried out and the child is now being treated in a top London hospital for advanced lymphoma – a form of blood cancer.
The survey involved 507 GPs and was carried out by GP Online, a website for family doctors.
But the results suggest doctors are finding it increasingly difficult to refer patients for urgent cancer scans.
When the same survey was carried out two years ago, just 31 per cent said their referrals had been blocked.
Cancer survival rates in the UK are amongst the worst in Western Europe and this has been blamed on GPs spotting symptoms late.
ARE GPS BEING ‘BRIBED’ TO NOT SEND PATIENTS FOR CANCER TESTS?
GPs were being paid millions by the NHS to ration referrals for operations, scans and even cancer tests, an investigation revealed last year.
Family doctors were offered the financial incentives in a bid to slash the number of patients they send to hospital for a variety of procedures.
The incentives mostly covered non-urgent referrals for hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, hearing tests and abdomen scans.
But two health trusts included urgent cancer scans in their schemes, and another two covered heart tests.
Patient groups said the payments were ‘profoundly wrong’, while one MP likened them to ‘bribes’.
Doctors’ leaders were also deeply opposed to the schemes, branding them an ‘offensive slur’ on GPs’ medical judgement.
But family doctors point out they are being actively discouraged from referring patients for tests because managers are intent on saving money.
And nearly quarter – 23 per cent – of GPs whose referrals had been blocked said their patient did in fact turn out to have cancer.
Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: ‘GPs have been working hard to help diagnose cancers earlier, and it would be a shame if this is reversed due to a lack of resources.
‘Investing in diagnostics will not only help cancer patients get an earlier diagnosis, but it could also reduce the demands on general practice, save money in the long run and improve patient outcomes.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee said: ‘At a time when there is an increased focus on reducing any unnecessary delays in diagnosing cancer, it is a concern that there remains so much variability in the ability of GPs to access appropriate diagnostic services.’
If GPs’ referrals are blocked they have to go through the whole process of referring the patient again, which can take several days.
When patients are downgraded, they are offered a non-urgent scan and may have to wait several weeks.
An NHS England spokesman said the NHS watchdog Nice had produced detailed guidelines for GPs to help them detect cancer earlier.
‘If a GP makes a referral in line with this guidance, this should generally not be passed back to the GP for further assessment,’ he said.
‘Across all cancers, patients are now being tested sooner with investment in greater diagnostic capacity including the roll out of one-stop cancer diagnostic services across the country.’