Taskforce for Lung Health calls for rapid access to CT scans for patients with suspected lung disease

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Taskforce for Lung Health is warning that, while current guidelines [1] from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that most patients presenting with respiratory symptoms in primary care should be sent for a chest X-ray first, this technique has limitations in identifying serious lung conditions such as lung cancer or IPF, potentially causing delays in diagnosis [2].

The Taskforce for Lung Health is urging the NHS to give GPs powers to refer patients presenting with potential lung cancer symptoms to computed tomography (CT) scanning,  as it is a more sensitive and accurate test than a chest X-ray. 

This would give patients the best chance of early diagnosis, opening access to the best available treatments to manage their symptoms and cure or slow the progression of their disease. 

Dr Alison Cook, Chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health, said: “Anyone living with a suspected lung condition should be able to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. For the NHS to keep using X-rays on patients who need access to the available better technology, is a second-class service. Sending NHS patients who have urgent symptoms of lung cancer for a chest X-ray, only to have to follow up with a CT scan, is shameful. It creates needless extra work for the health service, means patients are sent back and forth for tests, causes delays and can even cost lives.

“We’re calling for NHS England to implement a local pathway for diagnosing respiratory conditions taking factors such as age, symptoms and smoking history into account. Clear guidelines would enable GPs to easily identify and refer patients who should be going straight for CT scans, aiming to secure a quick diagnosis. The quicker a condition can be identified, the quicker people will receive the urgent care they need.”

The Taskforce policy paper can be downloaded here.

  1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). 2021. Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng12
  2. Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB). 2021. Missed detection of lung cancer on chest X-rays of patients being seen in primary care. https://www.hsib.org.uk/investigations-and-reports/missed-detection-of-lung-cancer-on-chest-x-rays-of-patients-being-seen-in-primary-care/#national-investigation