An international study claims that GPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are less likely to immediately refer possible cancer patients for tests than their counterparts in other countries / Getty

The study also found the UK has the second-worst cancer survival rates in a comparison with five other countries

GPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are less likely to immediately refer possible cancer patients for tests than their counterparts in other countries, possibly contributing to the UK’s low cancer survival rates, an international study has claimed.

In a comparison with five other countries, GPs from UK nations were least likely to refer quickly. Out of the six countries investigated, the UK also has the second-worst cancer survival rates.

The findings are based on survey responses from 2,795 GPs, on how they would manage different symptoms which can indicate cancers of the lung, ovaries, and bowel.

GPs were also asked how easily they were able to access blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound and other tests used to diagnose cancer. While 70 per cent of GPs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had direct access to these – similar to other countries – only one in five had direct access to more sophisticated tests such as CT and MRI scans. GPs in other countries had twice this level of access.

The study, conducted by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), looked at services in 11 jurisdictions across six countries: Australia, Canada, the UK, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Scotland was the only UK nation not included in the analysis. The findings are published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Experts from Cancer Research UK said that while GPs had the difficult job of deciding which patients should be tested, without overloading strained NHS services, it was time for their “role as gatekeepers” to be reviewed.

According to a recent study, the UK’s survival rates for nine of 10 most common cancers are lower than the European average, with counties like Sweden, Norway and Finland performing much better.

Responding to the ICBP study, Dr Richard Roope, clinical lead for cancer at the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs see hundreds if not thousands of patients with potential cancer symptoms – but only an average of eight will be diagnosed with the disease. Data suggests that one-year survival rates are improving and three quarters of those found to have cancer are referred after one or two consultations.

 “GPs across the UK are doing an excellent job considering the limited resources available to us. Of course there is always room for improvement, but funding for general practice is at an all time low, we have a severe shortage of doctors and access to scanners is very limited in UK primary care.”

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