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RPS: Pharmacies could become ‘early cancer diagnosis hubs’

Community pharmacies could become cancer diagnosis hubs over the next decade, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has suggested.

“One opportunity for the 2020s could be to develop community pharmacies as not only healthy living pharmacies and self-care support centres, but also as early diagnosis hubs,” the RPS said in a policy paper on the sector’s role supporting patients with cancer, published last week (January 10).

To fulfil this role, “community pharmacists would be trained to recognise red flag symptoms of certain types of cancer, to enable them to refer people to specialist services, so that cancers can be prevented or identified”, the society explained.

Public health campaigns

In the shorter-term, the RPS pointed out that pharmacies already play an “active role” in cancer prevention, offering “accessible” lifestyle advice through smoking cessation services and public health campaigns.

It suggested that one or more of the six public health campaigns English pharmacies are contractually required to deliver each year could be focused on “raising awareness [of] the symptoms and red flags of certain types of cancer”.

Commission screening services

A series of screening services should also be nationally commissioned through pharmacies, the RPS said. These should include a mole screening service and a chest x-ray referral service, among others, which could reduce the number of patients visiting their GP for a referral.

Ade Williams, Pancreatic Cancer Action pharmacy ambassador and lead pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol, agreed that “empowering us to make direct [cancer] referrals will speed up and improve survival from cancers like pancreatic cancer”.

The RPS also called for community pharmacists to be nationally commissioned to deliver a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination service, which it claimed would widen patient choice and accessibility to the service.

“Policy makers, commissioners and other healthcare professionals” need to recognise the role community pharmacists can play in supporting people with cancer, the RPS stressed.

Support and palliative care

In addition, a palliative care service should be implemented nationally, the RPS said in the document, as access to palliative care medicines in the community will broaden patients’ choice “about where they die”.

Although the five-year pharmacy contract in England mentioned that planning for pilots for a national palliative care service should commence in the coming financial year, “details are not yet available”, the RPS said.

“Prevention and early detection play a key part in improving cancer outcomes and we would like to see all community pharmacists supported to deliver this kind of care,” RPS English board chair Professor Claire Anderson said.

“We would like to see new models of care in the community sector explored by primary care networks (PCNs) and our policy paper can support this,” she added.

Do you agree with the RPS's policy paper?

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