One quarter of cancer patients are losing faith in the NHS because they are forced to visit their GP at least three times before they are referred for diagnostic tests, new research has shown. Cancer Research UK scientists for University College London and the University of Cambridge say that many cancer patients are dissatisfied by their care and are losing confidence in doctors and nurses who go on to treat them. 

Researchers studied data from 70,000 patients and found that out of the 60,000 people who were diagnosed through their GP, nearly 13,300 had been seen three or more times before they were referred for cancer tests. Those who had taken the longest to diagnose were more likely to be unhappy with later aspects of their care. Nearly one in five were dissatisfied with how medical staff broke the news that they had cancer and 40 per cent were unhappy with the communication between hospital staff and their GP. More than one in 10 felt that information had been deliberately withheld from them during their treatment, while 32 per cent said they lacked confidence and trust in ward nurses. 

Last month, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said it would issue family doctors with a checklist of symptoms to help them spot cancer for the first time in a bid to prevent at least half of needless deaths. Doctors have been told they must fast-track patients with signs like tiredness or unexplained bruises for urgent tests within 48 hours. NICE said too many GPs are “guessing” whether symptoms could mean cancer, with late diagnosis responsible for the deaths of up to 10,000 people each year. 

Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: “It’s important we now step up efforts to ensure potential cancer symptoms can be investigated promptly, such as through the new NICE referral guidelines launched last month to give GPs more freedom to quickly refer patients with worrying symptoms.” 

Britain is eighth from bottom in league tables comparing cancer survival in 35 Western nations and on a par with Poland and Estonia. For some cancers, such as cervical disease, women in Slovenia and the Czech Republic are far more likely to be alive five years after diagnosis according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Almost half of cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when treatment is less likely to work. 

Rebecca Morgan, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, commented: “We often act for clients who have suffered as a result of a delay in diagnosis of cancer, which can have devastating consequences. This study highlights another important reason for diagnosing cancer as quickly as possible, not just to give patients the best chances of survival, but also to improve their experience of the care they receive.”