A worrying total of 670 people who were being checked to see if they had cancer missed urgent appointments in one year alone.
Now, health chiefs serving Hartlepool and Stockton have launched a campaign to find ways of improving the area’s take-up.
One senior official, Dr Nick Timlin, who is the Hartlepool locality lead with the Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “These appointments are like gold dust and its extremely important if you are referred on a two-week rule appointment that you attend.”
Experts think there could be a string of reasons for people shunning the referrals including fear, not taking in the advice being given to them, and even wanting to go on holiday because they had already booked to go away.
Figures given to the Hartlepool Mail showed;
• 9,394 Hartlepool and Stockton people were referred to a hospital on the urgent two-week referral scheme in the 2015-16 financial year;
These appointments are like gold dust and its extremely important if you are referred on a 2 week rule appointment that you attendDr Nick Timlin
• Yet 670 of those missed the appointment;
• In just one month, July this year, 78 people missed the appointment which was almost 10 per cent of everyone given a referral.
The figures were released by the Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group which covers two local authority areas made up of 38 GP practices of all types and sizes, serving nearly 300,000 patients.
Dr Timlin added: “It’s unbelievable, perhaps GPs don’t make their patients aware how important these appointments are. Perhaps GPs do not make it clear to their patients that they suspect a cancer or perhaps some patients are too embarrassed to say they don’t want to go. I know some people want to have a booked holiday before they are referred.”
He admitted that, when people are suspected of having cancer, it was “very difficult”.
He added: “Understandably people can react in many ways including keeping other matters as higher priority to them but this does cause concern to all clinicians involved in cancer treatment and care since this delays potentially curative, lifesaving or otherwise effective interventions.”
CCG officials said they were working really hard with GPs and the hospital trust to look at why so many appointments were missed.
They urged anyone who knew they were going to miss a referral appointment to get in touch and let the CCG know.
CCG officials stress that a referral does not mean necessarily that a patient has cancer.
Dr Timlin added: “Being referred to the hospital within two weeks does not mean that you have cancer, the majority of patients referred under the two week appointment system do not have cancer but may have another condition requiring hospital diagnosis and treatment. If you are referred on this basis and about to go on holiday and are not prepared to cancel please advise your GP not to refer you until you return.”