The waiting times incurred during the management of 75 consecutive head and neck oncology patients attending for post-treatment follow-up were reviewed. Data were gleaned from general practitioner (GP) referral letters, patient case-notes as well as radiology and histology reports. The mean time for GP referral to ENT was 5.1 weeks. From ENT to endoscopy was 3.1 weeks, to histology 3.5 weeks, to computed tomography (CT) scan 5.6 weeks, to magnetic resonance scan (MR) 4.1 weeks, to primary radiotherapy 10.3 weeks and to surgery 5.5 weeks. The mean symptom duration prior to referral was 4.9 months.
Our results compare unfavourably with the standards recommended by the BAO-HNS. Local modifiations may improve matters, but significant increases in funding, manpower and equipment are required to achieve the stipulated standards. Moreover, criteria for referral have to be re-emphasized and patient education has to be addressed as these appear to contribute the longest delay in the diagnosis of head and neck tumours.