Studies on alternative routes to diagnosis stimulated successful policy interventions reducing the number of emergency diagnoses and associated mortality risk. A dearth of evidence on the costs of such interventions might prevent new policies from achieving more ambitious targets.
We conducted a retrospective cohort study on the population of colorectal (88,051), breast (90,387), prostate (96,219), and lung (97,696) cancer patients diagnosed after a GP referral or an emergency presentation and reported in the Cancer Registry of England. Resource use and survival were compared 1 year before and 5 years after diagnosis (3 years for lung), including the costs of GP referrals not converted into a positive diagnosis. Risk-adjusted statistical models were used to calculate the effect of rerouting patient' diagnoses from emergency presentation to GP referral.
Rerouting a cancer diagnosis results in a relatively small additional costs to the National Health System against additional years of life saved to the patient. The cost per year of life saved is £6456 in colorectal, £1057 in breast, -£662 in prostate (savings), and £819 in lung cancer. Reducing the overall prevalence of emergency presentations to the level achieved by the 20% of Clinical Commissioning Groups with the lowest prevalence would result in £11,481,948 against 1863 years of life saved for Colorectal, £847,750 against 889 years for breast, -£943,434 (cost savings) against 1195 years for prostate, and £609,938 against 1011 years for lung cancer.
Redirecting diagnoses from emergency presentation to GP referral appears an achievable target that can produce large benefits to patients against modest additional costs to the National Health System.