The Cancer Pathway (NHS)
Unlike in some countries, the UK has a medical system that comprises of primary care (GP) and secondary care (hospital) where patients can only be referred to the hospital through the GP unless they happen to attend A&E directly as an emergency. In terms of the cancer pathway, if you have symptoms suggestive of cancer, the GP would refer you to the relevant specialist under the two week wait pathway where you would need to be seen within two weeks, though there are some variations to this in Wales and Scotland. As part of the drive to Be Clear On Cancer by the NHS there some symptoms you really do need to be looking out for so if you are worried, please make sure to book an appointment to see your GP sooner than later!
The hospital have set targets that need to be met where patients on this two week wait pathway have to be seen, assessed, investigated and treated within certain timeframes (usually within 62 days, if found to have cancer) or they are penalised; the guidelines are constantly being reviewed. Other pathways have been also piloted and implemented more locally. For instance in Oxfordshire where I work, they have the Suspected CANcer (SCAN) pathway, which enables GPs to refer patients to secondary care to be investigated for possible cancer; these patients would not have necessarily met the strict criteria for referring patients under the two week wait cancer pathway based on their current symptoms.
For those of you interested in specific guidelines and pathways, much of what is practiced in the UK is based on the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE) guidelines. (Note: In the US, they have the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines). Similarly, if you are interested in the politically landscape of cancer services and their development, The Heath Foundation has published this document in 2018.
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