GP cancer care role will become increasingly prominent, experts predict

GPs will take on an increasingly prominent role in cancer care in future, experts will predict at this year's RCGP conference, but the profession will struggle to cope with rising demand unless 'urgent' funding and better access to diagnostics are made available.

Findings from The Lancet Oncology Commission, to be presented at the RCGP conference on Friday, warn that cancer and its after-care ‘will be an increasingly prominent part of primary care workload’.

The report, which looks at how cancer care will change in the future, says GPs will take on a wider role in treating the disease as demand for cancer care is predicted to rocket by 40% over the next 20 years.

GPs will be ‘key’ to meeting this growing demand, which will be met with a bigger emphasis on prevention and early diagnosis – but only if ‘radical improvements’ are made to diagnostic services and cancer training, GP experts behind the report said.

GPonline reported last year that half of GPs were denied access to cancer scans, despite evidence that better access boosts early detection of cancer.

The lifetime risk of developing cancer in the UK is now 50%, largely a by-product of longer life expectancies and modern-day lifestyle and environmental factors. A GP with 2,000 patients typically sees six to eight new cases of cancer a year.

Cancer diagnosis

The proportion of people surviving for up to a decade after cancer diagnosis has doubled since the 1970s, with half of all patients surviving at least 10 years. By 2030, the number of UK cancer survivors is estimated to double again from 2m to 4m.

GPs will be vital to provide many of these patients with on-going after care to deal with the long-term effects following treatment.

Lead author Professor Greg Rubin, primary care researcher at Durham University and former RCGP clinical lead for cancer, said the role of primary care ‘has been seen as marginal’ – but this was set to change.

‘With the growing emphasis in recent years on early diagnosis and on the patient experience during and after treatment, the vital role of primary care doctors has become clear,’ he said.

‘With an ageing population and a rapidly increasing number of cancer survivors, the primary care cancer workload will increase substantially over the next 10 years. Our challenge is how to prepare primary care doctors as the cornerstone in prevention, early detection, survivorship, and palliative care.’

GP access to cancer diagnostics

Dr Richard Roope, the current RCGP cancer lead, warned that general practice must receive more funding ‘as a matter of urgency’ and access to diagnostics must be improved.

He said: ‘It is hard not to be amazed by the advances in medicine that mean that there are now more patients living with cancer than dying from it, and we welcome the recognition of the role that GPs and our teams play in making this a reality.

‘But it is clear that so much more would be possible if our service was resourced appropriately, and we had better access to the appropriate diagnostic tools.

‘Currently, GP access to diagnostic tools, such as CT and MRI scans, and ultrasounds, is one of the worst in Europe. Better access would mean we are able to refer even more appropriately, avoiding unnecessary distress for our patients and alleviating pressures on secondary care.’

Read more: click here for the latest RCGP annual conference 2015 news and video from 1 October

Photo: JH Lancy

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