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What the new NHS drive to quicken diagnosis times means for us

NHS England has asked hospitals to work towards a 10 day turnaround for delivering diagnosis results but what does this mean for our community and what more can be done to improve diagnosis times for those affected by brain tumours?

NHS workers walk down a hospital corridor, blurred behind the NHS logo

The 10 Day diagnosis turnaround – what is it?

NHS England recently announced that they will try to improve how quickly people who have received an urgent cancer referral get their results. This is part of the organisation’s latest drive to improve diagnosis times across healthcare services.

NHS England has asked hospitals to work towards a 10 day turnaround for delivering diagnostic results. They’ve also asked for local health area teams to prioritise diagnostic tests (including MRIs) in the growing number of Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs).

Waiting for test results is always nerve-wracking. Let alone when you’re waiting for results having been referred because of a suspected cancer. By aiming to reduce the time between GP referral and test results to just 10 days, NHS England hopes to ease some of the anxieties that come with waiting for results.

Will it help people affected by brain tumours?

This is welcome news. It is great to see that people with brain tumour symptoms will be able to access MRI scans at CDCs. However, as highlighted in our recently launched Faster Diagnosis report, there are many other ways that we need to see NHS England enact to ensure that a quicker diagnosis is achieved for those who are referred with a suspected brain tumour.

Through our own Improving Brain Tumour Care (IBTC) survey we found that nearly over 1 in 7 (15%) respondents had said that it had taken over 6 months to get a diagnosis from first seeing a healthcare professional for their symptoms. And for 1 in 10 (10%) respondents, this took over a year. These shocking statistics indicate that we require huge improvements in ensuring people have the faster route possible to diagnosis.

Creation of a Best Practice Timed Pathway for brain tumour diagnosis

Alongside the announcement of the 10 day turnaround for diagnosis results, NHS England must develop a Best Practice Timed Pathway for brain tumours. These are currently being created for all cancers and are looking at how to make sure that people get the right tests at the right time and are diagnosed as quickly as possible.

We know that current pathways for people experiencing suspected brain tumour symptoms can be unclear and varied. People can experience multiple different referrals depending on where they live, the symptoms they present and whether they are diagnosed via A&E, a GP practitioner or elsewhere.

The development of a Best Practice Timed Pathway will help alleviate this problem. It will do this by outlining different steps that should be taken along the referral process and providing clearer timeframes.  

Expansion of the Non-Specific Symptoms (NSS) pathway

We also need to see an expansion of the NSS pathway. In England, this pathway exists for GPs to refer people who have vague or non-specific cancer related symptoms. The current list of vague symptoms on the NSS pathway does not include many symptoms that can be associated with brain tumours. The list must be updated to include these symptoms which will result in some people having a faster diagnosis through a referral to a Rapid Diagnostic Centre (RDC).

The use of GP Direct Access

It is also crucial that NHS England ensures GPs are able to send patients directly for diagnostic tests rather than sending them through secondary care. In November 2022, NHS England committed to every GP team being able to directly order CT scans, ultrasounds or brain MRIs for patients with concerning symptoms. We know that direct access to MRIs has been recommended for patients with suspected brain tumours for some time. But, it’s patchy across the country.

Direct access must be made available universally. It has to be delivered with appropriate workforce investment so that there are enough radiologists and neurologists to run the scanners and provide reports.  

It is also important that GP teams are provided with the training they need to interpret radiologists’ reports. This would mean that they could provide the most appropriate support or referral for people if they identified an abnormality in their scan result.

People wearing The Brain Tumour Charity t-shirts outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster as they campaign for faster diagnosis of brain tumours

What can I do to help?

While the 10 day diagnosis turnaround is certainly necessary – the above recommendations would ensure that those with symptoms of brain tumours can be referred sooner, which would result in a faster and steadier diagnosis.

We’re calling on policy makers in Government and the NHS to help us make sure people experiencing symptoms of a brain tumour receive a quicker diagnosis.

Sign up and join our group of passionate campaigners and help us create and fight for meaningful, lasting change!