A cancer centre which reduced waiting times for patients by up to 92% in its first year has become cheaper than current practice, analysis has found.
Patients going to GPs with non-specific, potentially cancerous symptoms were sent to a rapid diagnosis centre at Neath Port Talbot Hospital as part of a pilot where they were diagnosed significantly faster.
The Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) pilot saw waiting times slashed from 84 days to less than six days for people with suspected cancer, another condition, or no serious pathology.
The study, conducted by Swansea University researchers, suggests the concept saves money overall, and bringing in more centres would benefit patients, GPs and the NHS.
Dr Bernadette Sewell, from Swansea University said, “Our study shows that rapid diagnosis centres are beneficial for patients and the NHS.
“They cut waiting times, which means any treatment that people need can start earlier. The longer it takes to diagnose cancer, the worse the outcomes can be for patients and the more expensive it may be for the NHS to treat.
“The key is to ensure that the centres run at least at 80% of capacity, as the RDC in Neath Port Talbot Hospital is now doing.”
Between June 2017 and May 2018, 189 adults were referred by their GP, an average 2.78 patients per half-day clinic running twice a week.
Patients were either diagnosed with suspected cancer and referred to a specialist, given a non-cancer diagnosis, told no serious pathology could be found, or sent for further investigations.
Those with suspected cancer (23 patients), another condition (30 patients) or no serious pathology (68 patients) were diagnosed in an average of 5.9 days.
Those who required further investigation received diagnosis within an average of 40.8 days.
In comparison, “control” patients waited an average of 84.2 days – just under three months.
When cancer is diagnosed at a late stage survival is less likely, treatment is more costly and quality of life can be diminished. Long waits can also be anxious for patients.
However, some cancers are hard to detect early on because the symptoms are not specific.
During the study period, 23 cancers were diagnosed, with lung, renal and pancreatic cancer, as well as lymphoma and malignancy of unknown origin, (MOU) the most common.
Thirty significant non-cancer diagnoses were made, including stomach ulcers, gastritis, heart failure, pulmonary emboli, blood clots, abscesses and tuberculosis.
Since July 2018, the centre has run near or at full capacity, consistently seeing between four and five patients per clinic over the last year, and is now outperforming usual care.
The authors write: “Referral to rapid diagnosis services from primary care for patients with vague and/or non-specific symptoms suspicious of cancer addresses an important unmet need and provides value for money when run near or at full capacity.
“Furthermore, it reduces time to diagnosis and has the potential to improve patient outcomes.”
They believe their analysis is an indication of the benefits the centre could bring.