NHS England has revealed new plans which will give patients the choice to refer themselves for cancer tests in a bid to help diagnose cancer earlier.

Cancer survival rates in England currently fall short of the European average, particularly for those over 75 years old. Around 25% of cancer diagnoses are made too late, and NHS England says that 8,000 more patients would be alive five years after diagnosis if they could diagnose 60%, as opposed to the current figure of 50%, of patients early.

The new plans could also help alleviate pressure on A&E services, where many cancer diagnoses are presently made.

As part of the new plans, NHS England will test the following initiatives:

  • Enable patients to book an appointment directly with a cancer testing unit, rather than having to go to see their GP first;
  • Offer patients different types of cancer tests in the same place, on the same day;
  • Community pharmacists will be able to fast-track patients when recurring cancer symptoms are suspected;
  • GPs won't need to refer patients to a specialist and will be able to send patients directly for specific tests.

The announcement comes as the NHS has also revealed that it will cut 25 different cancer treatments due to funding difficulties.

Clinical negligence solicitor Michael Burrell, based in Thompsons Solicitors' Birmingham office said: "Focussing attention on early diagnosis, and introducing innovative ways to combat delayed or misdiagnosis of cancer is very welcome.

"While cancer survival rates continue to improve, misdiagnosis of cancer still occurs on an all too frequent basis. For a cancer patient, a delay in diagnosis can lead to devastating and, in some cases, fatal consequences and so anything that aids early diagnosis is welcome.

"Sadly you cannot help but be cynical as to the timing of this announcement – a positive move just as the NHS is forced to cut back on wider cancer treatments. As always the issue is funding, and the government is giving with one hand, while cutting services on the other."