Cancer plan increases GP diagnostic access

GPs are to be given 'quick and easy access to diagnostic tests' to boost early detection of cancer, the DoH has announced.

The proposal forms part of an ambitious five-year plan set out by the government to improve cancer services in England.

The £370 million NHS Cancer Reform Strategy, launched earlier this week, aims to transform existing cancer care from prevention and diagnoses, through to treatment and aftercare.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy in central London this week, DoH cancer czar Professor Mike Richards said early diagnosis of cancer was essential, particularly among those in black and Asian minority groups, who often present with cancer when it is at an advanced stage.

'We need to work with GPs to reduce the delays in cancer referral that occur at the primary care stage,' he said.

Currently, GPs only have access to blood tests and chest X-rays for cancer diagnosis.

But the DoH wants GPs to be given access to endoscopy services, non-obstetric ultrasound, CT scanning and MRI to help speed up confirmation or exclusion of cancer.

Health secretary Alan Johnson also hinted at primary care playing a role in cancer treatment.

Mr Johnson said: 'We want fewer cancer patients to stay in hospital and more to be treated in the community. This is more effective and will save money.'

The cancer strategy also calls for an increase in radiotherapy capacity over the next three years, with £200 million to be invested into new equipment and staff.

The breast and bowel cancer screening programmes are also to be extended. Men and women aged 60 to 74 will now be eligible for the test - previously the cut-off age was 69.

Women aged 47 to 73, rather than just those aged 50 to 70, will be invited for breast cancer screening.

RCGP spokeswoman Dr Sarah Jarvis said: 'One of the biggest problems that GPs have is that they have to deal with huge numbers of patients without cancer to find the ones that do.

'Therefore, it is important that they are armed with diagnostic tests to help them make an early diagnosis,' she added.

'However, we also have to be realistic in that we do not refer every patient that we suspect to see a specialist as we simply don't have the infrastructure to support this.'

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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