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RPS: Pharmacies could become ‘early cancer diagnosis hubs’

RPS: Pharmacies should deliver a national human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination service
RPS: Pharmacies should deliver a national human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination service

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?

Medicine Master, Primary care pharmacist

Great idea when you are not spending your own money

How High?, Community pharmacist

Utterly brilliant idea. Would this be a walk in service?

Would they have to queue behind the EHC, methadone, sore throat, CPCS referrals, emergency supplies, flu jabs, "can I have a word?", Oh the Area Manager wants it done today and you have to email to say it's done, the staff consultation as the employer decides to let another long standing member of staff go due to NHS funding cuts, ear ache, "Where's my script? I put it in last week, it's just a few tablets in a box, how hard can it be?", "what do you mean there's no stock? It's for my high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, pain (insert any medical condition as the shortage are that bad).

I've not had a breakdown yet but I think I am definitely showing signs of PTSD and my friends and family have all said my personality is "different", "less caring", "less diligent"........ If I could do emojies on here I'd fill the page with laughing faces.

Graham Morris, Design

Barking mad guidance!

Derek Noble, Locum pharmacist

It's a bit early isn't it?

The first of April is over two months away.

When was the last time these people worked in a community pharmacy?


Tired Manager, Community pharmacist

Patient 1: conjunctivitis.

Patient 2: leukemia

Utter madness



Benie I, Locum pharmacist

RPS really are working hard aren't they, all these novel new ideas. What about a new pharmacy outreach scheme to help the community. The pharmacist can pop round three times a day to make sure the fridge and cupboards are topped up and cook you a meal. If necessary can also dust and clean before hurrying back to the pharmacy. I'm sure the public would love it. Call it the Community First scheme and roll it out nationwide.

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Can't even get the basics right and now want to jump into the world of cancer diagnosis. Akin to a local mechanic struggling with an 80s mini metro but deciding to start servicing modern day lamborghinis and ferraris. Utter madness !!

Anyway should be interesting, Diagnosing cancer in between dispensing, minor ailments, smoking cessation, being threatened by methadone patients, delivering meds, procuring out of stocks, speaking to the gp etc..... Sounds great, a nice safe working environment for something sensitive like cancer. 

And I'm sure the pharmacists providing the service will be rewarded handsomely.

Derek Noble, Locum pharmacist

And once we've told them that they've only got two months to live, we could direct them to the 'Buy one, get one free' stand to cheer them up.

Dara Hughes, Community pharmacist

How about we let pharmacists be pharmacists. In my humble opinion we should recognise our professional and clinical limitations. Cancer diagnosis should always be a specialist area not only because of the clear implications to health if it is gotten wrong but also on the impact on entire friend and family network. CPCS is a great opportunity for us to make a really great impact on nhs workload if combined with basic pgd provision such as impetigo and utis. Keep it simple, keep it safe.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

All well and good with these proposals but it would seem to well illustrate that no one has a clue what direction CP takes as the medicine provision role is steadily eroded.

A danger of CP becoming a “Jack of all trades but master of none” perhaps? And with that danger (the lack of an unique defining role for CP) comes the probability of further decline and the even the possibility of demise.

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