Cancer insurance: direct access to specialists can speed diagnosis and treatment

Patients with direct access to cancer specialists have better survival rates, according to research by Imperial College London published March 2019.

Findings of a global study indicate that people with cancer have significantly better health outcomes in countries where they can access specialists directly, instead of having to see GPs to be referred for tests or specialist assessment.

The research amalgamated findings of 21 studies of healthcare systems in Europe and the US.

One study identified an 11% difference in one-year survival rates.

Private insurance funds direct access service

Bupa now offers a direct access service to a specialist without need for a GP referral.

  • An appointment with a consultant is offered within two working days.
  • Initial diagnostic tests are completed within one appointment and results are discussed that day.
  • If treatment is needed, it will be provided within 31 days of contacting Bupa.

Bupa say their direct access service has led to earlier cancer detection for Bupa customers, reducing the need for invasive treatment, and improving outcomes.

The NHS runs national screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancer, for pre-symptomatic detection.

Early diagnosis of bowel cancer (stage one) = 95% survival for five years or more

Stage 4 diagnosis of bowel cancer = 7% survival for five years or more

Are patients reluctant to see GPs about their symptoms?

Bupa suggest that patients may feel nervous or embarrassed about going to their doctor with potential symptoms.

Is this reluctance overcome by direct access to specialists? Or is it that it’s much easier to make an appointment?

The direct access service could certainly be valuable for patients who don’t want to have to wait for an NHS referral to see a cancer specialist, or get test results.

Current NHS referral time targets

  • In England, urgently referred patients should see a specialist in 2 weeks
  • In Northern Ireland the 2-week target only applies to suspected breast cancer
  • There is no 2-week target in Scotland and Wales

Current NHS treatment targets

  • cancer patients urgently referred to hospital by a GP should start treatment within 62 days
  • treatment should start no more than 31 days after agreeing a treatment plan with their doctor

The new NHS Faster Diagnosis Standard (FDS)

  • No more than 28 days from referral to test results
  • For patients referred to a specialist via a 2-week urgent referral pathway, or as a result of an abnormal result detected by a national screening programme

Waiting for diagnosis or treatment can be worrying

“You may begin to worry that the cancer will spread… But we know that most cancers usually grow very slowly. So waiting a few weeks for a scan or treatment does not usually affect how well the treatment works.” Cancer Research UK

Insurance for cancer patients

Critical Illness Insurance can save patients at least one major worry: how to pay their mortgage if they are diagnosed with cancer – or another critical health condition.

You need to take out the insurance before you are diagnosed. Current health conditions, and your family medical history, will affect whether you accepted for insurance, what conditions you are covered for and how much it will cost.

This type of insurance is quite expensive (possibly £100 a month, or more), but the lump sum payments which pay off a client’s mortgage completely are substantial.

Around 92% of critical illness claims are paid, according to the Association of British Insurers, and this rises to 96% for cancer claims.

  • Most clients choose to take out Critical Illness insurance when they take on a new mortgage, having considered the impact of just one partner having to pay for the mortgage at a time of major health trauma.
  • It’s often taken out in conjunction with a life insurance policy.
  • Premiums are much cheaper the younger you start paying
  • A 35 year-old non-smoker wanting £200,000 life and Critical Illness cover over 25 years might pay £64 a month
  • A 50 year-old needing the same cover over 15 years will pay upwards of £160 a month

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Written by Jennifer Stevenson ,
4th April 2019