A survey of GPs has found that the UK cancer survival rate is worse than in other countries because GPs are less likely to refer patients straight away as they have limited access to CT and MRI scans.

The survey found that around 1 in 5 GPs in England could request CT or MRI scans directly, compared with countries that have a higher cancer survival rate where twice the number could directly access diagnostic tools.

The study looked at survey responses from 2,795 GPs from countries with similar healthcare systems. GPs were given different scenarios to diagnose including potential cancers like lung and ovarian. Researchers found a link between the GPs diagnosis and readiness to explore cancer as the potential issue and the area’s cancer survival rate.

More than 70% of GPs in other countries reported having access to scans and blood tests for cancer diagnosis compared to just 20% of GPs in the UK being able to readily and directly access these methods of diagnosis.

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Researchers said this study could be one of the first things to begin to explain varying cancer survival rates across the world.

The report comes after the NHS announced plans to speed up early diagnosis in the UK through a range of methods and initiatives as well as increasing GP access to cancer diagnostic tools.

Dr Andrew Green of the clinical and prescribing committee explained, ‘If the Government wants to improve cancer care, they need to provide GPs with the resources needed to allow for standard appointment lengths of 15 minutes, as well as ensuring ready access to sophisticated investigations. This cannot happen until the proportion of the NHS budget spent on general practice is returned to its historic levels, and the workforce crisis is properly addressed.’

Dr Richard Roope of clinical lead for cancer at the RCGP also added ‘We also need significant, ongoing public awareness campaigns to educate the public about the causes of cancer – more than 40% of cancers are related to lifestyle choice – and to encourage people who have signs of cancer to approach their GP as early as possible.’

What do you think about this? Do you think GPs are too stretched with limited budgets or should they report every cancer concern regardless?