College gives cautious welcome to early cancer detection pilot

Responding to a new pilot scheme, announced at NHS Expo, that will see community pharmacists assisting with identifying signs of cancer early in patients, Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

"GPs and our teams understand the importance of timely diagnosis of cancer in order to maximise positive outcomes for patients and the College supports exploring any initiative that aims to improve this.

"GPs already work closely with colleagues working in community pharmacy and we have great respect for their skills. Many patients will visit the pharmacy who may not necessarily visit their GP practice, so this is an opportunity to spot potential signs of cancer that may otherwise be missed. What’s vital is that those pharmacists taking part in the scheme have the appropriate training and support – both to identify potential signs of cancer and to support patients who may be concerned or anxious - and that there is enough capacity in onward services to cope with increased demand against existing backlogs.

"There are a number of other things to consider. It will be essential that thresholds for referral are consistent across the system, and that GPs continue to have the same access to diagnostic tools in the community for patients they suspect of having cancer, so that they can properly inform their decision to refer a patient to specialist services. If cancer is suspected, there also need to be systems in place to facilitate same-day communication between pharmacists and GPs to ensure patient notes are updated and continuity of care can be maintained.

"We are pleased to see this scheme being piloted in the first instance and look forward to this being evaluated in terms of patient safety, and whether it has benefitted patient care and is of value for money for the NHS."

Further information

RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.