28 May 2015

Yorkshire Cancer Research launches investigation into patients' failure to attend urgent appointments for suspected cancer

YORKSHIRE Cancer Research is launching an investigation into why patients with suspected cancer do not turn up for urgent appointments as part of the charity’s new strategy to end cancer inequalities in the county.

Since 2000 the NHS has been required to make sure patients with suspected cancer are seen by a hospital specialist within two weeks of their GP requesting an appointment, but many people postpone or do not attend.

During 2012-13, 16.5% of patients from Leeds referred by their GPs were not seen in two weeks, often because they either did not attend or cancelled their consultation.

Dr Peter Knapp, Senior Lecturer in Evidence-Based Decision Making at the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences and the Hull York Medical School will investigate the reasons behind non-attendance, the consequences of not attending and identify new ways to prevent it from happening. The study, funded by a £190,000 investment from the charity, will be the first to look specifically at the reasons why people fail to show up.

Dr Knapp said: “Early cancer diagnosis has an important influence on the effectiveness of treatment and the chance of survival. The two-week policy is intended to reduce wait time and accelerate diagnosis and treatment, so the fact that this target is not being met raises concerns about missed or delayed diagnosis. By understanding why patients do not attend these appointments, we could have a significant impact on cancer outcomes in Yorkshire.”

Low cancer survival rates and late presentation with symptoms is associated with social deprivation. Yorkshire contains some of the most deprived local authorities in the country, and these areas have higher than national average mortality rates for cancers of the lung, breast, colorectal, stomach, oesophageal, kidney and bladder.

Previous investigations into delayed referrals by GPs for suspected cancer have found that cancer type is the most influential factor, but that delay is also more common in female, younger, non-white and less affluent patients.

The identification of patterns associated with non-attendance, cancellation or significant postponement of urgent referrals could help to determine if interventions should be aimed at particular cancer types, symptoms, patient ages or social groups and identify how to introduce them.

Dr Knapp said: “Social patterning of cancer survival means that deprived groups potentially have most to gain from a policy that shortens wait times for appointments and, when required, treatment. However potential benefits may be influenced by a number of factors, not least patients’ decisions to attend appointments. If patients from ethnic minorities or from more deprived areas are less likely to attend, then any inequalities in cancer survival will remain, or at worst, be widened.”

The study will involve analysing more than 200,000 patient records from the past 10 years, and conducting interviews with cancer patients from Yorkshire and GPs.

 For further information contact:

 Contact: Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email: nikki@ycr.org.uk

Elaine Boyes, Head of External Relations and Engagement, Hull York Medical School. Tel: 01904 321858 Email: Elaine.Boyes@hyms.ac.uk