One In Five Cancer Diagnoses Via Emergency

One fifth of cancer patients in Northern Ireland were given their diagnosis through an emergency assessment, a new report has revealed.

Some 46,068 people were informed they had cancer between 2012 and 2016, one fifth of which had an emergency route to diagnosis. These patients were given what's known as a "poor net survival" at three years of just 23%.

The figures do not include those diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer.

The worrying statistics came to light in the 'Pathways to a Cancer Diagnosis' report carried out by Queen's University Belfast and the Health and Social Care Business Services Organisation (BSO).

The comprehensive study provides details on the different routes by which cancer patients received their diagnosis, an important factor in their prediction of survival.

Routes can range from screening programmes to those who are diagnosed via emergency admissions to hospital.

The proportion of emergency presentations was higher in deprived areas and among older patients, the report has found.

Some 28% of patients were diagnosed after being 'red flagged' for testing, while 21% went through GP routes. Such patients had a three-year net survival rate of 72% and 71% respectively.
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Meanwhile, the proportion of patients diagnosed through the 'red flag' route increased from around 26% in 2012 to just below 31% in 2015.

While 20% of people received the news via emergency presentation routes, only 6% were diagnosed via screening. These figures are similar to rates in England, according to the Department of Health, however Northern Ireland has greater proportions of patients diagnosed via outpatient and inpatient elective routes and smaller proportions of red flag and routine GP routes.

The Department said further work is required to understand the local factors which might be driving such differences given that, for many patients, their route into secondary care, for whatever condition they may have, will typically begin with a consultation with their GP.

Chief Executive of the BSO Liam McIover welcomed the report saying: "This is a fantastic piece of work and shows what can be achieved when we collectively harness our data and analytical skills for the longer term benefits of patients."

It's also hoped the data will provide direction within the health service to help improve cancer services and patient outcomes.

Dr Finian Bannon, Principal Investigator on the QUB team, said: "The findings of the study will help improve patient outcomes by increasing our understanding of how cancer services are delivered, and how services can be improved."


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