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Referral pathways and diagnosis: UK government actions fail to recognize complexity of lymphoma


Dr Debra A. Howell, Epidemiology & Genetics Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK (e-mail:


Referral pathways and diagnosis: UK government actions fail to recognise complexity of lymphoma

To gain survival advantages potentially associated with prompt diagnosis, the UK government introduced identical waiting-time targets for all cancers, and guidelines to ensure that general practitioners make appropriate hospital referrals. For lymphoma, the evidence guiding these actions is limited. This study examined referral pathways in patients with lymphoma and variations in time to diagnosis by discipline of first referral. A case series study was conducted including all patients aged over 25 years, newly diagnosed with lymphoma in the UK county of West Yorkshire, during 2000. Data were extracted from primary care and hospital records of 189 patients. Referral pathways were described, and the number of days between first referral and diagnosis calculated. A distinct referral pathway did not exist; patients were initially referred to many disciplines. Surgical referrals predominated, and only 12% of patients were sent directly to haematology. Time to diagnosis varied by discipline and was shorter for patients sent to haematology than for most other common disciplines. UK government actions to ensure the prompt diagnosis of patients with lymphoma are not evidence-based. The complexity of the referral pathway in patients with lymphoma, which affects time to diagnosis, has been underestimated. Further government actions should be evidence-based, ensuring prompt diagnosis of lymphoma from whatever discipline patients originate.