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Reaction: High street pharmacists to make cancer referrals

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The news that high street pharmacists will be able to assess and refer patients with suspected signs of cancer has been met with mixed reaction from stakeholders.

Under the scheme, patients with symptoms such a lump, a cough or bleeding will no longer need to see their GP for referral.

The NHS will also send out more ‘roaming trucks’ to perform on-the-spot community checks.

The move will help ease the pressure on family doctors and potentially speed up treatment for thousands of patients.

However, some stakeholders fear that the NHS is not ready to handle the extra referrals.

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard told the NHS ConfedExpo conference:

“We want to make it as easy as possible for those most at risk to get vital, lifesaving tests.

“These plans have the power to truly transform the way we find and treat cancer – and ultimately spare thousands of patients and their families from avoidable pain and loss.”

Dr Anthony Cunliffe, national clinical adviser for primary care, at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:

“Doctors and nurses are working tirelessly to diagnose and treat the tens of thousands of people entering a very busy cancer care system.

“This pilot will give people the opportunity to access more trained professionals in their community to get symptoms investigated.”

Dr Richard Van Mellaerts, executive team member of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said:

“Having more staff across the community who are trained to spot the signs of cancer just makes sense.

He added: “It’s essential that any cancer detection training matches the standards that GPs work to, to ensure that no potential cases are missed.”

Zeinab Ardeshir, Co-founder and CEO of PillSorted, said:

“Following the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, in which community pharmacists played a huge part, the role of the pharmacist is set to change quickly.

“Pharmacists are the first point of access into the health care system for patients and do not require appointments.

“As such, tapping into community pharmacists to refer and screen patients to speed up cancer diagnostics could unlock significant potential for the NHS, in terms of freeing up capacity for GPs, secondary care and supporting a more integrated care system.”

Prof Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

“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.”

A spokesperson for the charity Pancreatic Cancer Action told Chemist + Druggist:

“[There is] an estimated shortage of 1,934 radiologists across the UK, equivalent to a 33 per cent shortfall for what is needed to manage the number of referrals.

“A similar staff shortage exists among radiographers.

“Without the workforce to operate and assess the results of scans, urgent cancer referrals will continue to be downgraded to hit targets and those not downgraded will see increasing delays.”

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