Objective: The Two-Week Wait (TWW) referral system for suspected colorectal cancers has a low yield. To examine this, we assessed the referral pattern of general practices within four primary care trusts and looked at the variability of yield of colorectal cancer amongst all TWW referrals and assessed the reasons for variability.
Method: A prospectively collected database of all colorectal cancers was examined for new cases diagnosed in the 12 months from April 1st 2004. Patients were cross-referenced via general practitioner (GP) codes to identify the referral origin. Reasons for the variability in referral patterns from each general practice were assessed in relation to TWW referrals, population demographics and through postal questionnaire of GPs.
Results: A total of 175 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer were referred from 49 general practices. Whilst there was a positive correlation between the number of TWW referrals and colorectal cancer per 1000-practice population (P = 0.001; Spearman correlation coefficient r(s=0.447,) two-tailed), there was a big discrepancy between referrals and cancer diagnosed in many general practices. Twenty-six general practices (53%) had no colorectal cancer diagnosed via the TWW route and these practices had significantly lower utilization of the TWW referral pathway. In the postal survey, 22% of GPs were unaware of TWW clinics or colorectal cancer referral guidelines and only 8% of GPs knew the number of referral criteria.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates wide variability within primary care, in the appropriate use of colorectal cancer referral guidelines. General practices should be targeted for education.