Straight to test: introduction of a city-wide protocol driven investigation of suspected colorectal cancer

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To decrease waiting times for colorectal cancer diagnosis.


Following extensive negotiations on three sites, we replaced the standard referral route of GP to outpatient clinic with city-wide implementation of a protocol driven sequence based on the patient's declared symptoms, the initial consultation being replaced by the first test taking place within 31 days. No choice in test allocation was granted; difficult cases were adjudicated by named consultants. We used a ‘dry run’ to make sure that our planned changes would not overload our local capacity, leading to a pilot run involving 1/3 clinicians, followed by a full cross-city implementation over two months.


In 2001, before the pilot only 116/188 (62%) of our colorectal cancers who were referred either under the 2-week-wait arrangements or on a ‘soon’ basis were diagnosed within 31 days of referral. Our ‘dry run’ established that we did have the capacity to service our planned sequence of tests. In the pilot, all colorectal cancers were diagnosed within 31 days of referral, and 95% of all diagnoses (no abnormality or benign disease) were reached within 31 days of referral. After full implementation 19/19 (100%) of our cancers coming through our protocol system were diagnosed within 31 days and 95% of patients with benign disease.


Follow-up audit of our system one and two years later shows that we now diagnose approximately 80% of our colorectal cancers who are referred under the 2 week wait or as ‘soon’ referrals within 31 days. We have successfully redesigned our service, at minimal expense, in a way, which should enable us to meet the government targets in the National Cancer Plan.

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