In an attempt to cut down delays in cancer diagnosis, general practitioners (GPs) in the UK are to be empowered to directly send their patients to cancer tests instead of referring them to a specialist.
At the moment, patients are guaranteed to see a cancer specialist within two weeks if they get an urgent referral from their GP.
AdvertisementBut in the new scheme of things, the GPs themselves can order chest X-rays, ultrasounds and MRI brain scans.
The idea is to enable GPs to have better direct access to testing for those patients who are not classed as urgent but could benefit from further investigation.
To achieve this, the government is freeing up money to improve access to a range of tests. Over the next four years more than £450m is being earmarked for the additional facilities required.
The move forms the central plank of the government's cancer strategy aimed at saving an extra 5,000 lives a year and raise survival rates up to European averages.
The UK still has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe, largely because cancer is more often spotted too late for anything to be done about it.
International league tables show the UK is well below average on breast and bowel cancer. In the UK, 79 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are still alive after five years - compared with more than 90 per cent in the United States.
A study last year found that almost a quarter of cancer cases were only spotted when patients underwent emergency treatment.
Setting out the plans, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Our ambition is simple, to deliver survival rates among the best in Europe and this strategy outlines how we will make our first steps towards this."
The strategy also contains details on a number of initiatives already announced.
These include the plans to roll out sigmoidoscopy screening for bowel cancer, the £200m cancer drugs fund for treatments not routinely funded by the NHS and increasing the number of cancer specialists.
There will be a £10m advertising campaign to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of some of the most common cancers as well.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said the strategy was a welcome move.
But he added: "The government now needs to ensure that this new investment flows through and is quickly taken up by front-line services."
But critics will warn there is a danger that unspecialised GPs will, for example, send people for costly MRI scans if they have a headache.
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