Prioritization of colorectal referrals: a review of the 2-week wait referral system

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Abstract

Objective

The 2-week wait (TWW) fast-track referral system for patients suspected of having colorectal cancer (CRC) has fallen well short of its expectations of streamlining prioritization of colorectal referrals. Our study reviews most of the audits/studies that have been published on the system as its inception. Our aim was to identify where the shortcomings are and also to review the various alternatives that have recently been put forward.

Method

All articles on the TWW system published in mainstream peer reviewed journals were reviewed, as were all the abstracts on the system presented at the Association of Coloproctology and the British Society of Gastroenterology meetings. Implementation, compliance with guidelines, cancer detection rate, impact on waiting times and the overall effectiveness of the system are evaluated.

Results

While the implementation of the system has been generally robust in most centres, the compliance with guidelines has been poor. This coupled with the inherently poor specificity of the system has resulted in a poor (and decreasing) cancer detection rate and a steadily growing volume of the hospital referrals. The system has been shown to have an adverse impact on the waiting times for routine colorectal referrals – a group that contributes significantly to the total number of CRC detected.

Results

The various alternatives to the TWW system that have been proposed recently, including our own, are discussed.

Conclusion

The shortcomings of the TWW system in its original form have now been demonstrated beyond doubt. What is needed is a fresh approach to find a cost effective and viable alternative in a climate of increased expectations and finite resources.

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