NHS not equipped for pharmacy cancer referrals, charity warns

Health & NHS

NHS not equipped for pharmacy cancer referrals, charity warns

The NHS in England needs to invest more in cancer diagnostics if it hopes to benefit from pharmacist-led referrals, a charity has said.

Pancreatic Cancer Action said last week that while it welcomed NHS chief Amanda Pritchard’s announcement of a forthcoming pilot that will see community pharmacies refer patients with possible ‘red flag’ cancer symptoms to specialists, the health service may not be equipped to manage these patients efficiently.

PCA said that while pharmacist referrals have the “potential to save thousands of lives each year by,” they will not have a significant impact on survival rates without the necessary equipment and workforce to cope with higher numbers of referrals.

There is “already an issue” with waiting times to get tested for pancreatic cancer, the charity said, pointing out that the UK has significantly fewer radiologists per 100,000 people than other countries in western Europe. 

PCA has lobbied for several years for pharmacists to be allowed to refer red flag patients, as some patients with undiagnosed cancers may be frequent visitors to pharmacies as they try to manage their symptoms with OTC remedies.

PCA chief executive Ali Stunt said: “For a long time, I have held the belief that community pharmacists can play an integral role in assisting in the diagnosis of cancer, and in particular pancreatic cancer.

“This is why we at Pancreatic Cancer Action developed e-learning and other materials to support pharmacists to identify patients with worrying symptoms.

“We have also lobbied for pharmacists to be able to directly refer patients with symptoms of cancer and I am delighted to hear that soon they will be able to do so.

“However, there are major problems with diagnostic capacity and workforce vacancies creating backlogs of referrals currently. So, to support this initiative, not only will pharmacists require the necessary training and funding but that the system they are referring into needs to be fit for purpose.”

Bristol pharmacist Ade Williams said: “It is now more important than ever that any delivery design delivers the vision, scalability and sustainable model required. With pancreatic cancer, this will be especially important for early diagnosis.”

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