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Multiple GP visits before referrals

More than a quarter of cancer patients had to visit their GP three or more times before being referred to hospital, although many went on to rank their care as good, a survey has found.

The cancer patient experience survey for England found 17% of people eventually diagnosed with cancer visited their GP three or four times before being referred to a specialist. Another 9% saw their GP five or more times while 21% saw their GP twice and 53% only had to visit their surgery once.

Almost nine out of 10 (88%) ranked their overall NHS care as good or excellent when questioned late last year while 91% felt they were listened to by staff.

Overall, 94% said they were always given privacy when they were examined or treated, 91% said they got understandable answers all or most of the time and 88% were given easy-to-follow information about tests.

The survey, of more than 70,000 cancer patients across England, found some hospitals were performing better than others. Of the 155 NHS trusts covered by the survey, 50 showed very similar results to the previous survey.

Some 31 trusts showed declining scores from the previous year, although the effect was only small. Meanwhile, 31 trusts showed significant improvements across 10 or more questions compared to the previous year and 40 had smaller improvements.

Sean Duffy, NHS England national clinical director for cancer, said: "This survey allows people who have been diagnosed with cancer to provide feedback on the care and treatment that they have received and I am heartened to see that so many patients had a good experience of their care.

"Whilst the results of this survey are very encouraging, every patient deserves the best experience they can have of care and that is what we shall be working on for the future." He said he was "disappointed" to see scores deteriorating at 31 trusts. "The falls in score were marginal but this does mean there is more work to do."

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "It is really positive that just about half of NHS trusts in England have improved the quality of care they give to people with cancer. But if half can improve, it is strange that a third made no improvement and some even provided worse care for cancer patients.

"Macmillan's analysis shows that the treatment of hospital staff is intrinsically linked to this. Happy staff means happy patients. Conversely, where staff suffer high levels of discrimination or harassment, cancer patients are up to 18 times more likely to receive poor care. That is really worrying, and comes down to leadership."

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