Leo Varadkar defends GPs for ‘over-referral’ of breast cancer cases

Analysis of more than 1,000 cases referred to Galway clinic found downgraded to ‘routine’

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said doctors were anxious over the possible repercussions of misdiagnosis

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said doctors were anxious over the possible repercussions of misdiagnosis

 

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said he would be reluctant to condemn GPs responsible for an alleged “over-referral” of breast cancer patients to specialist clinics.

A recent analysis of more than 1,000 cases referred to a cancer clinic in Galway found the vast majority deemed urgent by the referring GP were later downgraded to “routine”.

Researchers questioned whether such unnecessary referrals were caused by a lack of clinical training, or represented attempts at securing specialist appointments.

However, Mr Varadkar, who trained as a GP, said doctors were anxious over the possible repercussions of misdiagnosis.

“I understand why that happens, because nobody wants to make mistakes. There’s a fear of the human consequences of making mistakes. There’s also the fear of litigation, so I wouldn’t be condemning GPs for referring too many people to breast clinics,” the Minister said, speaking at the launch of the Oesophageal Cancer Foundation’s Lollipop Day appeal.

The study, which appeared in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, raised concerns that legal issues may arise from the practice of referring patients who don’t display medical abnormalities during the initial check-up.

It found cancer was detected in 33 of the 1,014 referrals listed, despite the fact that almost half of the cases referred by GPs were marked “urgent”.

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Irish Cancer Society said it hoped that that anyone who needed a referral could get a timely referral and appointment in rapid- access breast clinics.