“Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer”, published in January 2011, committed over £450 million up to 2014-15 to achieve earlier diagnosis of cancer, including improving direct general practitioner (GP) access to key diagnostic tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to support the diagnosis of brain tumours. In 2012, the Department published ‘Direct access to diagnostic tests for cancer: best practice referral pathways for general practitioners’ to provide criteria for accessing key diagnostic tests including MRI brain scans. The guide aims to raise awareness of the symptoms that require urgent referral to specialists and sets out where a direct referral for an MRI brain scan may benefit patients through achieving a faster diagnosis. NHS England monitors the use of these diagnostic tests through the Diagnostic Imaging Dataset.
To increase GP awareness of brain tumours in children, in 2012, the Department funded British Medical Journal Learning to provide an e-learning module for GPs on diagnosing osteosarcoma and brain tumours in children. One part of the module supports GPs to understand the main types of brain tumours in children and young people, their common symptom presentations and to recognise when patients need urgent referral, the other deals with communication barriers, and provides potential ways to address these barriers in GP consultations.
In addition to this, since 2005, the Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancer, published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has supported GPs to identify patients with the symptoms of suspected cancer, including brain tumours, and urgently refer them as appropriate. NICE is in the process of updating this guidance to ensure that it reflects the latest evidence and the anticipated publication date for the revised guidelines is May 2015.
I have also recently written to all Health and Wellbeing boards to make them aware of the briefing material developed by the “Headsmart” charity, which aims to increase awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours among parents, schools and health professionals.