A woman wearing a headset, sitting at a call centre desk

Support services for cancer patients in primary care

Published on 27 April 2023

Macmillan Cancer Support is keen to raise awareness among GPs of a range of services set up to help patients diagnosed with cancer, as well as family members who are caring for them.

It includes an easy-to-access referral form, now integrated into primary care IT systems. It's for anyone with a cancer diagnosis who may need more information on their condition, or financial or other guidance.

Now available on all GP IT systems, the simple 30-second tick box referral form can be used to make it easy for patients or their carers to get a call from specialists at the Macmillan support line. And it does not have to be a new diagnosis for a patient to access help.

Dr Anthony Cunliffe, Macmillan national lead medical advisor and a GP in South East London, said: “A lot of GPs think we do end of life care, and know there are Macmillan nurses in the trusts. But they don't realise that we also have direct services that are available free for anybody affected by cancer across the UK, and they're all delivered from our central offices.

Anthony Cunliffe Macmillan headshot
Dr Anthony Cunliffe

“There are lots of ways in which Macmillan support patients which I think GPs would welcome knowing about.”

Once referred – and it could be by anyone in the primary care team - they will get a call from the support service which offers a chat with a trained cancer nurse specialist about the diagnosis and treatment but also allows them access to help with money worries, benefits, getting back to work or energy bills. This is also a way for patients to access Macmillan grants.

“It means that if a patient has a specific need, which could be non-medical or beyond their medical expertise, the GP can just tick the right box and task admin, just like they would for anything else, and then the patient will be proactively followed up.”

Other recently developed services offered by the charity include a collaboration with BUPA to provide psychological support. It means that anyone living with cancer who is struggling emotionally can access up to six free counselling sessions “within days”.

The charity has also partnered with Big Health to provide two cancer Apps for free: Sleepio for those having difficulty sleeping and Daylight to help with anxiety.

“I think the majority of GPs and nurses don't realise that we have these services that can help with a myriad of problems - physical, mental, practical. These services are just so useful in primary care.”

For those interested in learning more about what Macmillan can offer to GPs, the charity is also hosting a one-day free primary care conference on 11 October. This is in Birmingham, with a focus on personalised care, integration and health inequalities.

Dr Owen Carter is a GP in London, with a special interest in oncology with experience of using the new referral form process. He said: “Directly referring to the Macmillan information support line from primary care is incredibly useful.

“It means my patient will receive a call back within three working days from the support line. I can be reassured that the patient receives support that can complement what I can offer during a limited, time pressured consultation.

“It’s particularly helpful once I complete a QOF Cancer Care Review; and means they can receive further support, and will be linked into wider services such as financial support or more practical help.”