Referrals for head and neck cancer in England and The Netherlands: an international qualitative study of the views of secondary-care surgical specialists
Langton S., Rijken JA., Bankhead CR., Plüddemann A., Leemans CR.
© 2019 The British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons One-year survival after head and neck cancer in England has been reported to be worse than that in Europe, despite five-year conditional survival being similar, which implies that patients present later in England. One country with better rates is The Netherlands. There are many possible causes, one of which may be the system of referral from primary to secondary care. We have compared the views of secondary care specialists in the two countries about their systems for referral, and identified aspects that might have an impact on outcomes. We organised semistructured qualitative interviews of surgical specialists in head and neck cancer in England and The Netherlands (n = 12 in each). The most common theme was communication between primary care and specialists. Surgeons in England identified this as the aspect most lacking under the English “two-week” rule, while Dutch specialists felt that the good communication in their system was one of its best points. Other themes included the educational needs of primary care practitioners, criticism of “tick box” referrals in England, and too many patients referred who do not have cancer. Overall, specialists in both countries identified good aspects of their respective referral systems, but those in England felt strongly that the “two-week” rule/NICE guidance system could be improved with better direct communication between primary and secondary care, which might improve the speed and quality of referrals, reduce unnecessary ones, and assist in educating primary care physicians. It is not clear whether such improvements would improve survival, but further research and piloting of such a system should be considered in England.