Under utilisation of the 2-week wait initiative for lung cancer by primary care and its effect on the urgent referral pathway

Br J Cancer. 2005 Oct 17;93(8):905-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6602798.


The '2-week wait' scheme for referral of patients with cancer to secondary care coincided with the introduction of Department of Health (DoH) Guidelines on referral of patients with suspected lung cancer. The aim of this study was to examine the impact of this process on the urgent referral pathway for lung cancer. Medical records of all patients referred with suspected lung cancer were reviewed for the year prior to introduction of the 2-week wait and DoH guidelines and for the subsequent 24 months. A total of 1044 patients were referred, of which 650 (62%) were found to have malignancy. In the first and second years of the 2-week wait scheme, only 57 and 58% were referred via the scheme. Department of Health guidelines were followed in all but a small number. Median wait time increased from 7 to 9 days. The proportion of all urgent referrals seen within 2 weeks fell from 84 to 71%. The proportion of non-2-week wait urgent referrals being seen within 2 weeks was only 75.5% in the first year of the scheme and fell further to 60.9% in the second year. The absolute number of referrals rose and the proportion having cancer fell from 78% before the scheme to 46% in the second year. During this time, there was no change in stage at presentation. Symptoms were not helpful in discriminating benign from malignant disease and haemoptysis was actually more common in the benign group. However, over 50% of patients in the benign group were appropriate to be seen in secondary care. The 2-week wait scheme has so far failed to reduced waiting times for lung cancer. The findings of this study suggest that this is partly due to continued usage of urgent referral routes outside the 2-week wait scheme and secondly due to a large increase in referrals, probably generated by the introduction of the DoH guidelines. Some adjustment to the guidelines may be appropriate to reflect more emphasis on the early performance of a chest X-ray and the use of direct access to other imaging modalities such as CT. Patients referred outside the 2-week wait are disadvantaged and thus practitioners would be wise to refer all their patients through the 2-week wait system.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Male
  • Medicine
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care Team
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Specialization
  • Waiting Lists*