Ethnic minorities in England ‘need more GP visits’ before cancer diagnosis

Ethnic minorities and young people require more visits than other people to the GP before being diagnosed with cancer, according to new analysis.

On average, one in five people across England require three or more GP interactions before being diagnosed with cancer. But for people from ethnic minority backgrounds, the figure rises to one in three, according to analysis of the NHS cancer patient experience 2022 survey by QualityWatch, a joint programme from the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation.

For young people aged between 16 and 24, about half needed at least three GP visits before being diagnosed, with 20% needing at least five visits. Despite this, young people were still more likely to be diagnosed at an early stage in their cancer.

The analysis also found that people from the most deprived areas in England were 21% less likely to be referred for urgent suspected cancer than those from more affluent areas.

The NHS’s own target is to have three-quarters of cancers diagnosed at an early stage by 2028.

The research further reveals the disparities in cancer care between demographics across England. Deprivation already causes an extra 33,000 cancer deaths across the UK, while black and Asian people on average wait longer for a cancer diagnosis than their white counterparts.

Prof Kamila Hawthorne, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that identifying cancer symptoms in young people could be challenging as the risk for the group was generally much smaller.

Hawthorne said: “Ensuring patients receive timely and appropriate referrals for suspected cancers is a priority for GPs – and to this end, they are doing a good job, making more urgent referrals and ensuring more cancers are being diagnosed at an early stage than ever.

“Whilst GPs are highly trained to identify cancers, this remains challenging in primary care, not least and particularly with some cancers, because the symptoms are often vague and typical of other, more common conditions.”

Dr Liz Fisher, senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust, said: “Delays to a cancer diagnosis pose real risks for people and an early diagnosis plays a pivotal role in determining the treatments available to people and determining outcomes.

“The NHS has set an ambitious goal to dramatically increase early detection of cancer, but performance in this area has stubbornly stalled in recent years. Everyone’s experience of cancer diagnosis is different but the risks to delays aren’t felt equally, with younger people and those from minority ethnic groups requiring more visits to health professionals to secure a diagnosis.”

Tim Gardner, the assistant director of policy for the Health Foundation, said: “This analysis highlights the need to improve people’s access to primary care, especially in more deprived areas, so that more people can be diagnosed earlier. This ultimately depends on boosting primary care capacity through sustainable, long-term investment and growing and supporting the workforce.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS staff are working hard to ensure that everyone affected by cancer receives a prompt diagnosis, regardless of their age, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

“The NHS is diagnosing more people than ever for cancers at an early stage and, for the first time, over 3 million people were referred by GPs for potentially life-saving cancer checks last year.”


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