A third of cancer patients have to go to their GP at least twice before being sent to hospital for tests, a report reveals.
The NHS National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, completed by nearly 70,000 people with cancer, found a small number of patients even had to go five or more times before they received a referral.
Cancer survival rates lag behind those in Europe and the US, which experts say is primarily due to slow diagnosis.
Studies suggest 10,000 deaths could be prevented each year if the UK merely hit the European average for five-year survival.
But experts say GPs will have to send many more patients for tests – and at a much earlier stage – if this is to happen.
The NHS National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, completed by nearly 70,000 people with cancer, found a small number of patients even had to go five or more times before they received a referral
The new survey, compiled by NHS England, found 32 per cent of patients saw their GP at least twice before being referred – and of those 17 per cent went at least three times, and 6 per cent had to go five or more times.
The picture is improving – and 43 per cent were sent after seeing their GP just once and 12 per cent attending after a screening appointment.
The survey also reveals patients were satisfied with the speed at which they were seen, with 84 per cent saying they were seen as soon as they thought necessary, and only 16 per cent complaining they should have been seen sooner.
Patients was also satisfied with their overall care, giving an average rating of 8.8 out of 10 – the highest score achieved since the report was launched in 2010.
Sara Bainbridge, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘If we want to see earlier diagnosis then GPs are going to have to send more patients for referral.
‘But they need support to do so. The most crucial thing is to have more diagnostic staff in hospitals – more radiographers and radiologists.
‘We know sometimes referrals are even bounced back to GPs because there is not enough capacity in hospitals.
‘So this survey does not indicated that GPs are doing anytthing wrong – we need to make sure they have access to diagnostic tests and there is capacity to meet demand.’
Macmillan Cancer Support raised concerns that only half of patients were clearly warned of the long-term side effects of treatment and others were not given help receiving financial support and benefits.
Dr Moira Fraser, director of policy at Macmillan, said: ‘This survey is a key tool in understanding what patients really think about cancer services and must continue in future years so services can establish where patients’ experience of care is not as good as it should be.
‘Whilst it is good to see that cancer patients broadly have a positive experience of cancer care, a closer look at this year’s survey reveals some concerning issues.’
But Cally Palmer, NHS England’s national cancer director, said: ‘The latest statistics are clear – the number of people living beyond cancer is at a record high and we now know that the vast majority of people with cancer also feel positive about the care they receive.’