New cancer self-referral service opens door to early detection of lung cancer

Private healthcare provider, Bupa, has launched a new service which allows people experiencing cancer symptoms to see a specialist consultant without being referred by a GP.

The Cancer Direct Access services enables Bupa customers to call a team of specialist advisers who use the latest guidelines from National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) to establish whether they need to be referred to a specialist.

The service aims to improve the early diagnosis and treatment and increase survival rates.

"We appreciate not everyone has the luxury of private healthcare. However, if this service proves successful, we will be campaigning for a similar programme to be made available on the NHS."
Paula Chadwick, CEO of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

Dr Steve Iley is the medical director at Bupa UK:

“Early detection can have a significant impact on an individual’s chance of survival, and reduces their need for complex and invasive treatment.

“However, we know that diagnosis and treatment are often delayed as people can’t find the time to book a GP appointment or worry about wasting the doctor’s time.

“Cancer Direct Access removes the need for a GP referral and allows customers to access specialist diagnosis services in a way that is easy and convenient for them.”

The service aims to diagnose potential cancer patients faster, something that is particularly an issue with lung cancer.

Joanna is living with stage IV lung cancer
Joanna had a cough but it took three visits to the doctor before she was sent for a chest x ray. Her lung cancer is now incurable.

Lung cancer survival rates are not in line with the majority of cancers; only 10% of people with lung cancer survive for five years or more compared to 87% for breast cancer, 85% for prostate cancer and 59% for bowel cancer. This is largely due to the majority of cases diagnosed at late, and therefore incurable, stage.

Paula Chadwick, CEO of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, is hopeful this new service could help lung cancer patients get diagnosed faster, giving them access to curable treatment:

“We hear all too often of patients with lung cancer getting diagnosed too late, even if they have gone to the doctors with symptoms.

“By having a team solely dedicated to cancer referrals, a team who are fully aware of all lung cancer symptoms and the NICE guidelines, we hope this will lead to faster diagnosis and more lives being saved.”

According to NICE guidelines, a person should be offered an urgent chest x-ray within two weeks if they are:

  • Aged 40 or over with two of the following unexplained symptoms – cough, shortness of breath or fatigue, or
  • Aged 40 or over, with a smoking history and one of the following unexplained symptoms – cough, shortness of breath or fatigue.

Paula continues:

“Whilst these are three of the more common symptoms of lung cancer, there are many others to be aware of including unexplained weight loss, chest or shoulder pain and even clubbing of the fingers. I would expect the Cancer Direct Access team to be aware of all potential lung cancer symptoms.”

If a customer calls with symptoms that are not covered by Cancer Direct Access Service, they will be advised to see their GP and can receive on-the-spot clinical advice from a Bupa nurse. The nurse can also provide them with guidance about what they should ask their GP.

The service is only available to Bupa customers but Paula believes this is a positive step forward:

“We appreciate not everyone has the luxury of private healthcare. However, if this service proves successful, we will be campaigning for a similar programme to be made available on the NHS.”

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