The NHS is planning to tell patients they have got cancer by text message in an attempt to speed up treatment, it has been revealed.
People whose scan or X-ray results come back abnormal would be sent a message briefly outlining the concerns and urging them to go to their doctor.
The texts are intended as a safety net to ensure people still find out about a diagnosis even if there is a communication breakdown.
Most patients are still expected to receive the news from their doctor first, but those who are on holiday or unable to get an appointment could find out by text instead.
The plans were drawn up by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) following the death of a 76-year-old woman with lung cancer whose abnormal scan results were missed.
The HSIB has asked the NHS’s digital transformation body and the Royal College of Radiologists, which represents doctors who diagnose cancer, to develop an automated text system.
“The notification would be sent within an agreed timeframe to ensure that the vast majority of patients would have received the information by a clinician,” it said. “However, if the result had become lost in the system for any reason, the notification would provide a vital safety net and ensure the most important person – the patient – was made aware of the result.”
Roy Lilley, a health policy analyst and former chairman of an NHS trust, told the Daily Mail it was an appalling and insensitive idea.
“Cancer is a huge shock and a patient has to be told in the most sensitive and careful way,” he added.
Caroline Abrahams, from Age UK, pointed out that not all older people are tech-savvy. “An over-reliance on text messages could actually lead to disastrous delays if older people are not habitual users,” she said.