Two in five patients diagnosed with cancer in Wigan required repeat visits to their GP before being sent for tests, figures reveal.
The latest NHS National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, completed by 329 people with cancer in the Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area, found that dozens saw family doctors at least twice before being referred for tests in 2018.
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Of 222 patients who saw their GP with symptoms, 25 made five or more visits before they were eventually sent to hospital for further investigation.
Another 24 saw their GP three or four times, while 42 visited twice.
Overall, 41 per cent required repeat visits before being sent for tests.
Asked to rate their care on a scale from zero, very poor, to 10, very good, respondents gave an average score of 9.0 – higher than the previous year’s 8.8.
This was identical to the rating for cancer care across England.
The annual survey, carried out on behalf of NHS England, attracted nearly 74,000 responses from cancer patients across the country.
Ruth May, NHS England’s chief nurse, said: “Patients’ satisfaction with their cancer care remains at a record high with nine out of 10 patients happy with the care and support they’ve received, which is testament to the hard work and compassion of NHS staff.
“This is despite record numbers getting checked for cancer and surviving it, with 2.2 million getting checked for cancer last year.
“The NHS Long Term Plan will ensure that even more people receive earlier cancer checks alongside the best possible care and lifesaving new treatments.”
Dr Tim Dalton, Local GP and Chair of NHS Wigan Borough CCG, said: “People with very early stages of cancer often present to a GP with very general symptoms that could also be attributed to other illnesses or conditions that patients may have, which makes it very difficult to diagnose.
“However, the earlier the cancer is found, the easier it usually is to treat, therefore, we offer training and promote education sessions to local GPs and nurses on how to recognise the symptoms of the many different types of cancer so they can refer on for test as early as possible.
“Once patients are referred by their GP, nearly all patients are seen by a specialist within two weeks and we are pleased to see that patients on average rate the local cancer service as a nine out of 10.”
Dr Richard Roope, clinical lead for cancer for the Royal College of GPs, said that despite “increased pressures” facing GPs, emergency presentations of cancer are at an all-time low.
He added: “It is notoriously difficult to diagnose many cancers in primary care. Particularly in the early stages of the disease, often there are either no symptoms or they might be vague and indicative of other, more common conditions.
“GPs and our teams also need to be mindful of onward pressures in secondary care, and often come in for criticism for over-referral, as well as not referring enough.
“The most effective way to address this is to give GPs and our teams in primary care better access to the appropriate diagnostic tools in the community, and the training to use them.”