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Cancer Patients Victims of “the Perverse Effect of Targets”

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An NHS trust is advising doctors to refrain from making a referral for investigation for patients suspected of having cancer, unless they can attend their appointment within two weeks.

Government guidelines suggest that patients suspected of having a tumour should have a referral to see a specialist within two weeks and so the move by the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust will ensure this target will be met.

However, it will also mean that patients could end up waiting longer than necessary to see a specialist.

Chief Executive of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Local Medical Committee, Dr Paul Robin describes this kind of action as the, “perverse effect of targets,” before adding, “It is clinical nonsense.”

A spokesperson from the trust responded by explaining that if a patient cannot make the appointment within two weeks then it would, “be more appropriate to refer them as soon after their previously arranged holiday or family commitment.”

Meanwhile, overall statistics suggest that patients are still having to wait more than the six week target for diagnostic tests including CT and MRI scans.

The Department of Health however blamed this on a minority suggesting that, “some trusts are underperforming,” before adding that the average waiting time has in fact remained stable at around 2 weeks for the past 12 months.

The spokesman concluded, “patients are getting the tests they need but it is adding pressure on our health services. This is why we need to modernise the NHS to protect it for future generations.”

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