Send to

Choose Destination
BMJ. 2015 Oct 13;351:h5102. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h5102.

Use of the English urgent referral pathway for suspected cancer and mortality in patients with cancer: cohort study.

Author information

Cancer Epidemiology and Population Health, King's College London, London SE1 9RT, UK Research Unit for General Practice, Centre for Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Public Health England, Knowledge & Intelligence Team (East Midlands), Sheffield, UK.
School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, University of Durham, Stockton on Tees, UK.
Division of Health and Social Care, King's College London.
Research Unit for General Practice, Centre for Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.



To assess the overall effect of the English urgent referral pathway on cancer survival.


8049 general practices in England.


Cohort study. Linked information from the national Cancer Waiting Times database, NHS Exeter database, and National Cancer Register was used to estimate mortality in patients in relation to the propensity of their general practice to use the urgent referral pathway.


215,284 patients with cancer, diagnosed or first treated in England in 2009 and followed up to 2013.


Hazard ratios for death from any cause, as estimated from a Cox proportional hazards regression.


During four years of follow-up, 91,620 deaths occurred, of which 51,606 (56%) occurred within the first year after diagnosis. Two measures of the propensity to use urgent referral, the standardised referral ratio and the detection rate, were associated with reduced mortality. The hazard ratio for the combination of high referral ratio and high detection rate was 0.96 (95% confidence interval 0.94 to 0.99), applying to 16% (n=34,758) of the study population. Patients with cancer who were registered with general practices with the lowest use of urgent referral had an excess mortality (hazard ratio 1.07 (95% confidence interval 1.05 to 1.08); 37% (n=79,416) of the study population). The comparator group for these two hazard ratios was the remaining 47% (n=101,110) of the study population. This result in mortality was consistent for different types of cancer (apart from breast cancer) and with other stratifications of the dataset, and was not sensitive to adjustment for potential confounders and other details of the statistical model.


Use of the urgent referral pathway could be efficacious. General practices that consistently have a low propensity to use urgent referrals could consider increasing the use of this pathway to improve the survival of their patients with cancer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center