The computerised system, which can send a patient’s details, symptoms and GPs’ observations to hospital and receive acknowledgement within minutes, is now available for suspected cases of breast, lung and prostate cancer.
It is to be expanded over time to include all cancers and other conditions where a GP wants a patient referred to a consultant.
The system has been planned for some time but its need was dramatically illustrated by the scandal in Tallaght Hospital in 2010 when 3,500 GP referral letters were found lying unopened in consultants’ offices and pigeon holes.
Under the new system, GPs can fill in standard forms online and send them immediately to one of the eight designated cancer referral hospitals.
An instant acknowledgement is received, and within five days an appointment date will be identified. For urgent cases, an appointment is made within two weeks with the first available consultant so requests do not pile up for one practitioner while another has spare capacity.
Non-urgent patients are prioritised according to a standardised triage system and receive an appointment within 12 weeks.
The system is based on a model developed by a neurologist, Dr Niall Tubridy, brother of RTÉ star, Ryan, who was using it successfully in his own practice.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly said: “I want to see this transposed across the entire system so that all referrals in the future will be electronic, that patients will have certainly about their date and certainty about the record of the request and never again can we see a situation like occurred in Tallaght.”
Putting standardised referral forms online instantly puts them in the grasp of the 80% of GPs currently using compatible IT systems. The National Cancer Control Programme has set a target of getting at least 20% of breast, lung and prostate cancer referrals made online by the end of this year.
Dr Susan O’Reilly, director, NCCP warned of a “tsunami” of cancer cases with numbers expected to double as the population ages over the next 20 years.