Patients with cancer symptoms could potentially skip a GP appointment and instead go straight for a scan, England's Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay has indicated.
The suggestion, from an interview with Mr Barclay in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, is the latest proposal floated amid ongoing pressure on the health service.
It comes as ministers face an uphill struggle to cut waiting lists. Latest figures published last week by NHS England showed that 7.57 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of June, which was an increase from the 7.47 million figure the previous month.
Cancer Waiting Times Below Targets Set
Reports this week suggested that targets to ensure patients see a specialist within 2 weeks of being urgently referred by their GP for suspected cancer could be scrapped. That came after the latest data revealed cancer wait times in England remain well below targets set by the Government and NHS.
According to The Daily Telegraph, proposals being worked on in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) would see some patients skipping a visit to a GP and instead going straight to an NHS diagnostic centre. "We are very much looking at those patient pathways," Mr Barclay told the paper.
He was quoted saying: "Where there are bottlenecks in the system of referral from the GP, is there scope to go direct to the relevant diagnostic test or to the clinician? Breast cancer is a good example because almost always the GP refers on… and therefore there's an opportunity to design out bottlenecks in the system."
This is not the first time such a proposal has been floated, but the prospect of bypassing GPs is likely to raise questions about feasibility.
In the interview, Mr Barclay also revealed plans to offer around 200,000 patients — who had been on NHS waiting lists for at least 9 months — a choice of hospital, so they could shorten their wait, from October.
Mr Barclay also said he had commissioned former M&S boss Steve Rowe to look at how the DHSC could identify efficiency savings. Plans understood to be under consideration include scaling back the DHSC's 21 sites to 10, the paper reported.