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The Department of Health’s “two week standard” for bowel cancer: is it working?
  1. K Flashman,
  2. D P O’Leary,
  3. A Senapati,
  4. M R Thompson
  1. Colorectal Unit, Surgical Department, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, Portsmouth, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Mr M R Thompson
    Colorectal Unit, Surgical Department, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, Portsmouth PO6 3LY, UK;


Objective: To determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Department of Health’s new general practitioner referral guidelines for bowel cancer.

Design: One year prospective audit.

Setting: District general hospital serving a population of 550 000.

Subjects: All patients with bowel cancer; all patients referred on the basis of the two week standard and to a routine colorectal surgical outpatient clinic.

Main outcome measures: Proportion of cancers referred on the basis of the two week standard and to other colorectal clinics; the proportion with the higher risk criteria and their diagnostic yields; stage of cancers diagnosed in outpatient clinics; and time to treatment.

Results: A total of 249 cancers were diagnosed in the index year. Sixty five (26.1%) were referred to two week standard clinics, 40 (16.1%) to routine colorectal surgical outpatient clinics, 54 (22%) to other clinics, and 88 (35.3%) were emergencies. Thirteen patients per week were referred to the two week standard clinics and 85% (54/65) of cancers so referred were seen within two weeks. The diagnostic yield of cancer in the two week standard clinic was 9.4% (65/695) compared with 2.2% (40/1815) in the routine colorectal surgical outpatient clinic (p<0.0001). Eighty five per cent of patients with cancer referred to outpatients matched the guidelines for the two week standard clinics. Only 46% of this group were so referred. Overall, delay to treatment and Dukes’ stage were not improved in patients diagnosed in the two week standard clinics.

Conclusions: Most patients with bowel cancer were not referred on the basis of the two week standard although most fulfilled the referral criteria, which had higher diagnostic yields. The two week standard clinics did not shorten the overall time to treatment or improve the stage of disease because the time lags before referral and after the outpatient appointment are the major causes of delay in the bowel cancer patient’s journey.

  • Department of Health
  • two week standard
  • bowel cancer
  • guidelines

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