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High Street pharmacists to make cancer referrals

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Pharmacists will be able to refer patients Pharmacists will be able to refer patients

Staff in high street pharmacies will be funded to spot signs of cancer as part of a new drive to catch tumours early when they are easier to treat, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard has announced.

Customers will then be sent for scans and other checks under the initiative, which is being trialled by pharmacies as part of radical NHS action that also includes roaming liver scan trucks and a targeted genetic testing programme.

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‘The NHS will not rest in our efforts to catch cancer early and save more lives. Throughout the pandemic, NHS staff developed new and innovative ways to ensure patients could get cancer checks and treatment as normal, including by providing COVID safe drugs and delivering chemo at home,’ said Ms Pritchard.

‘NHS staff have continued this innovation; from liver trucks travelling around the country to genetic testing and high street checks, 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.’

‘The community pharmacy pilot, to be carried out in areas across the country, will see staff spot signs of cancer in people who might not have noticed symptoms,’ said Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid.

‘Those with symptoms including a cough that lasts for three weeks or more, difficulty swallowing or blood in their urine will be referred direct for scans and checks without needing to see a GP if staff think it could be cancer.’

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The early detection of cancers is something that is critical to successful treatment. In principal this is welcome news and reflects the wider contribution clinical pharmacists can make to the NHS. I would however offer a word of caution regarding NHSE's enthusiasm for expanding roles. NHSE has for the past few years actively promoted the use of pharmacists, who are registered as non-medical prescribers, as a first point of contact clinicians who can treat patients and avoid the need for GP appointments. In my experience there are some very good local community pharmacists who provide a safe and first class service. Sadly the majority of pharmacists practice in commercial outlets, and do not undertake direct clinical practice. Patients who follow the NHSE advertised advice to 'see your pharmacist' are frequently disappointed with the response and are redirected (by pharmacists and/or counter staff) to urgent care facilities including A&E.

Regarding this initiative with potential cancer referrals, it will be interesting to see what the results are in a couple of years.

Mike Paynter
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