A new system designed to speed up diagnosis for people with suspected cancer has been introduced in North Wales.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has issued guidance to GPs to help them determine whether patients with symptoms of colorectal cancer can be referred directly for an investigation, bypassing an outpatient appointment and saving time.
More than 500 people are diagnosed every year in North Wales with a colorectal cancer, such as bowel, colon and rectal cancer.
It is hoped that sending patients straight to test will mean they are diagnosed sooner and can start their treatment as quickly as possible.
Dr Claire Fuller, Consultant Oncologist and the Health Board’s Colorectal Clinical Advisory Group Lead, said: “Time is of the essence when diagnosing a cancer; the earlier a patient can be diagnosed, the sooner they can start treatment and this can potentially improve their overall prognosis.
“Historically, patients with suspected colorectal cancer have been referred by their GP for an appointment with a consultant, where they will have a physical examination before being sent for a test, like a colonoscopy.
“The new ‘Straight to Test’ guidance gives GPs the know-how and the mechanism to send patients directly for an investigation, eliminating the consultant appointment and saving precious time.
“This has been happening piecemeal across the Health Board for some time, but this is the first time we have standardised the guidance and made it our ‘business as usual’ approach.”
The guidance was written with input from consultants, gastroenterologists and GPs themselves.
Jenny Liddell, a GP at Corwen Family Practice, said: “One of the biggest challenges we face as a GP is referring our patients into the complex hospital system, because it’s not always clear what the process is.
“The new guidance helps us determine quickly and with ease which patients are eligible and how to get our referral through the system as smoothly as possible.”
Bruce Weston, 75, of Cilcain, Flintshire, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2017.
After an initial referral by his GP, he waited six weeks for a hospital appointment, eventually arranging to have his diagnostic tests done privately.
The retired school inspector says the new guidance will improve the patient’s experience.
“Waiting for a test was a cause of great stress and anxiety, especially when you’re reading in the news about the importance of an early diagnosis,” said Bruce.
“Once I was on the pathway, all of my subsequent tests and treatment ran like clockwork, but had I not been forthright and used my initiative, who knows how long I might have waited for a diagnosis.
“Giving GPs the ability to refer patients directly for a test removes an unnecessary step and speeds up the process, and that’s all you want as a patient on this cancer journey.”
The standardised ‘Straight to Test’ guidance has been introduced as part of an ambitious new programme between the Health Board and Macmillan Cancer Support to redesign the way cancer services are delivered in North Wales.
While most people diagnosed with cancer in North Wales have a positive care experience, the recent Wales Cancer Patient Experience Survey tells us there are areas for improvement.
The Transforming Cancer Services Together programme has been set up to identify and implement these improvements and is looking specifically at breast, lung, urological and colorectal cancers.
Yvonne Lush, Macmillan Programme Manager, said: “This programme is all about understanding what works best and changing what we do to provide the best possible care and support to patients from the moment they come into our service.
“It’s about ensuring we have the right systems in place to deliver an early diagnosis and prompt treatment, and also about improving the support to patients and their families through what is a really traumatic time.
“With the number of people living with cancer in Wales set to rise from 130,000 to 250,000 by 2030, there has never been a better time to transform the way cancer care and support is delivered.”
For more information about Transforming Cancer Services Together, click here