Objective: To examine the effect of the fourteen-day rule on the colorectal service of a district general hospital.
Methods: Prospective audit of all patients referred by general practitioners to the colorectal service of a district general hospital serving a population of approximately 300,000 people. The main outcome measures were: (i) mean interval in days from referral to first clinic appointment; (ii) first clinic appointment to diagnosis; and (iii) overall interval from referral to diagnosis.
Results: There was a change in the referral pattern with greater numbers of 'fourteen-day rule' and urgent referrals than expected (P < 0.001). The mean time interval from referral to diagnosis was reduced (P < 0.01). This was due to a reduction in the wait for a first clinic appointment (P < 0.01). The wait between first appointment and diagnosis was unchanged (P < 0.05). Waiting times for patients referred as 'routine' or whose GPs did not specify a priority also improved.
Conclusions: The 'fourteen-day rule' with respect to colorectal cancer has reduced waiting times for a first appointment to see a specialist. Further improvements will require additional resources to reduce the delay for investigations. The effect on long-term survival remains to be seen.