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On 4 October, NHS England published new cancer ratings, which provide a snapshot of how well the NHS in different areas of the country is diagnosing and treating cancer, and supporting patients.

The overall cancer ratings are based on four indicators:

  • Early diagnosis;
  • One-year survival rates;
  • 62-day waits for referral; and
  • Overall patient experience.

Fifty per cent of people diagnosed with cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for ten years or more (2010-11), and cancer survival has double in the last 40 years, according to Cancer Research.

The NHS accepts that more needs to be done at a local level  but believes that having a comprehensive public health policy, which included the ban on smoking in public places, will have a dramatic effect on incidents of cancer in years to come.

Early diagnosis is often vital in ensuring that people receive the best possible treatment and can achieve the best possible outcome. Primary care has a vital role in achieving that goal.

Often, patients will visit their GPs with symptoms and signs that are causing them concern. The GP must be able to recognise those symptoms as a potential for a cancer diagnosis and then make the appropriate referral. There are NICE Guidelines that specify the recommended action GPs should take. If the symptoms of cancer are not recognised – or not recognised promptly – there may be a delay in providing treatment.

Once the referral has been made, there may be a delay in starting treatment. Sometimes it will be appropriate for the GP or specialist to arrange diagnostic tests. This can also be delayed if results go missing or diagnostic equipment is not available. When the results are returned, there may be a failure to interpret the results correctly, leading to an incorrect diagnosis being made.

The publication of the data on cancer survival rates is intend to drive improvements in cancer outcome. It is hoped that by identifying geographical variations best practice will be identified and shared to raise the standard in all local settings.

Lyons Davidson’s Clinical Negligence Department has successfully acted on behalf of many clients in relation to the delay and misdiagnosis of cancer. If you would like any more information please contact Tabitha Rooks in the Clinical Negligence team by calling 0117 906 162 or emailing  [email protected].