Health

GPs to be allowed to request cancer tests directly

X-ray of a healthy chest
Image caption Chest X-rays will be one of the tests GPs can order

GPs are to be given the power to send patients for tests if they suspect they have cancer, the government says.

Currently a specialist has to request tests, so the government says the move will speed diagnosis.

Radiographers welcomed the move, which will be announced at the Britain Against Cancer conference this week by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Cancer experts said improving levels of early diagnosis was crucial to saving lives.

Late diagnosis is accepted as being the main reason for England's cancer survival rates lagging behind other countries.

The government has said £25m will be invested in diagnostic testing in 2011/12, to fund up to 150,000 extra tests with funding rising in subsequent years.

GPs will be able to directly order chest X-rays - to help diagnose lung cancer, ultrasound - to help spot ovarian, liver and pancreatic cancers, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy - which are used to help detect bowel cancer and MRI scans - to aid brain cancer diagnosis.

Mr Lansley said: "Our ambition is simple, to deliver survival rates among the best in the world. Earlier diagnosis is key to this which is why we will be prioritising this area in the forthcoming Operating Framework.

"These plans will provide clinicians with access to the resources they need to deliver the outcomes patients and families deserve."

Manageable

Richard Evans, chief executive officer of the Society of Radiographers, said there had been a concern that GPs might send more patients for tests than specialists do.

But he added: "Where services have been set up to try it out, things have been surprisingly manageable.

"And there's no doubt that if I were a patient, I would want the quickest access to getting the test and the results.

"I wouldn't feel there's any need to take up a specialist's time just to order a test."

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, welcomed the government's plans.

"Diagnosing patients earlier is second only to reducing smoking rates in terms of the number of lives that could be saved from cancer.

"If we could diagnose cancers as early as the best countries in the world, we could avoid more than 10,000 deaths a year."

He said measures such as giving GPs the power to order diagnostic tests would "start to address the gap".

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