Funding will be provided to pharmacies to identify cancer in patients, the NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard has announced. This is part of an NHS drive to catch tumours earlier when they are easier to treat and improve diagnosis and survival figures. Part of the NHS Long Term Plan committed to increasing the number of cancers caught early from half to three in four.
If cancers are identified at pharmacies, customers will then be sent for further checks and scans. This will be rolled out in pharmacies across the country, and it is hoped many cancers will be caught in people who do not present with any symptoms at all. The scheme is in addition to other measures to increase early diagnosis, such as roaming liver scanning trucks and targeted genetic testing.
Some customers will be fast tracked for scans and checks if pharmacists feel they may have cancer, cutting out the need to see a GP for a referral. This is to be used, for example, for customers who have blood in their urine or a persistent cough lasting three weeks or more.
The NHS believes increasing the capacity for cancer checks is vital, particularly to prevent GPs from being overwhelmed. Currently, one in every four GP referrals is now for suspected cancer and the NHS has seen record numbers of people getting checked following extensive NHS awareness campaigns.
The NHS will also launch a new programme of genetic testing for BRCA mutations for people with Jewish heritage who are at higher risk of mutations, with up to one in 40 people affected, compared with 1 in 400 in the general population.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Ensuring patients can access diagnosis and treatment easily in their communities and on high streets is a fundamental part of our 10-Year Cancer Plan. Harnessing ground-breaking innovations such as this will save lives and help us achieve our ambition of being the best place in Europe for cancer care”.