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Doctors who miss cancer to be named and shamed

Published on 01/07/14 at 03:13pm
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In a new government initiative doctors who consistently fail to diagnose signs of cancer could be publically named on an NHS website.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has outlined controversial new plans to mark doctors with a red flag if they are deemed to be missing too many symptoms, or if patients have to consistently make multiple visits before they are sent for a specialist diagnosis.

The information could in time be published on an NHS website as part of Hunt’s drive to make the NHS more transparent.

He told the Mail on Sunday: “we need to do much better”. Hunt added that there was too much regional variation in cancer diagnosis levels, and the new proposals are designed to improve both the level of diagnosis and improve standards of GPs with poor referral rates.

The policies have been met with much criticism however, with Labour shadow health minister Jamie Reed calling the idea ‘desperate’ and accusing Hunt of ‘attacking doctors’.

Dr Richard Roope, clinical lead for cancer at the Royal College of GPs also condemned the idea, claiming the system would be ‘crude’ and warned that it could result in doctors indiscriminately referring people for further tests to avoid being labelled as a poor doctor.

The proposals follow an NHS survey last year which showed over 25% of people eventually diagnosed with cancer had to visit their GP at least three times, before being referred for specialist diagnosis.

But publically naming and shaming doctors is not the answer according to Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association - who argues that it could actually harm patients if they have to wait to see specialist because of healthy people flooding waiting lists.

He says instead it is “important to understand why there were delays in making referrals and to raise public awareness about the signs and symptoms of cancer”.

The move comes as senior conservatives and former coalition ministers raise concerns about the future of the NHS – if more substantial funding is not obtained.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons health select committee and a former GP, has warned that doctors would not be able to maintain current levels of service amidst rising demand and that the NHS budget is failing to keeping up with inflation.

She was joined in her call by Paul Burstow, a Lib Dem former health minister who warned the NHS was “in danger of collapse within five years without extra spending”.

Emily MacKenzie

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