DOZENS of cancer sufferers had to make FIVE or more trips to their GP before they were referred to hospital for tests, figures have revealed.

An NHS patient survey, completed by 586 cancer patients in Colchester and Tendring, found more than 100 had to see their family doctor at least twice before they were referred for tests.

The annual survey, carried out on behalf of NHS England, attracted nearly 74,000 responses from cancer sufferers across the country.

Of the 423 patients who sought advice from their GP in Colchester and Tendring, 28 made five or more visits before they were eventually sent to hospital for further investigation.

Another 62 saw their GP three or four times, while 110 visited twice.

Overall, 47 per cent of the patients who responded to the questionnaire required repeat visits to their doctor.

Dr Richard Roope, clinical lead for cancer for the Royal College of GPs, said it is “notoriously difficult” to diagnose many cancers in primary care.

“Particularly in the early stages of the disease, often there are either no symptoms or they might be vague and indicative of other, more common conditions,” he said.

“GPs and our teams also need to be mindful of onward pressures in secondary care, and often come in for criticism for over-referral, as well as not referring enough.

“The most effective way to address this is to give GPs and our teams in primary care better access to the appropriate diagnostic tools in the community, and the training to use them.”

However, the survey also revealed respondents from Colchester and Tendring thought highly of the standard of care provided.

Asked to rate their care on a scale from zero - very poor - to ten - very good - patients gave an average score of 8.9.

This compares well to an 8.8 average rating for cancer care across England.

A recent study in medical journal Lancet Oncology found UK cancer survival rates are on the up.

But it found out of the seven high-income countries analysed, the UK faired the worst for key cancers including lung, colon, pancreas and stomach.

When the Gazette presented the survey results to Matt Case, Cancer Research UK’s policy manager, he called for urgent Government investment in NHS diagnostic services.

“The good news is that people with cancer report an overall positive experience of their NHS care – which is a testament to all the staff working harder than ever to provide it,” he said.

“But many patients had to repeatedly see their GP before being referred, so it’s important that GPs are supported to make earlier referrals.

“The Government urgently needs to invest in training more NHS staff, particularly in diagnostic services, to deliver more tests for patients with suspected cancer.”

A spokesman for the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group said over the past year it had held educational events, launched a new test and developed plans for a new clinic to reduce delays in care.

He said: “We are focused on implementing initiatives to increase earlier diagnosis and improve outcomes for patients with cancer.

“We are working with our system partners, such as GPs, hospitals and Public Health to achieve this.

“We are pleased to see patients have rated their cancer care highly and continued improvements are one of our key priorities as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

“We are committed to ensuring patients are diagnosed with cancer at the earliest opportunity and are working to raise awareness of the symptoms.”