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GPs encouraged to send personal reminders for bowel cancer screening

GPs can help boost the uptake of bowel cancer screening in the over-60s by sending them a personal reminder letter, a study has shown.

Under the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, all 60-74-year-olds are invited to be screened for the disease every two years, using a home testing kit, but in 2014/15 the uptake was only 58%.

A trial involving 25 GP practices in Wessex with low uptake of screening (under 55%) saw over 3,000 reminder letters sent on GP practice-headed paper and with the signature of the patient's GP. The letter was sent to patients who had been invited for screening and sent a 28-day reminder letter by the NHS, but had not returned their test kit.

Researchers found that among the patients who received the letter signed by their GP, uptake was three percentage points higher than in a control group of patients who did not receive the letter.

They said that extrapolated across England, that could amount to an extra 123,000 people participating in screening every year, detecting an extra 453 peole with polyps which can go on to form cancer and 150 cases bowel cancer, each year.

The paper, published in the British Journal of Cancer, concluded: 'The GP-endorsed reminder was associated with significantly increased uptake among subjects not responding to the standard reminder letter.'

They noted that sending the letters 'required continuous engagement from GP practices and created additional work' and that therefore 'whether this is sustainable across the country is questionable when considering the pressures that GPs face'.

But Fareham GP Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK clinical champion and one of the study authors, said that 'automated' but 'personalised' GP reminders 'doesn't require a lot of work for receptionists'.

Arguing that 'anything that works to increase bowel screening participation should be considered', he said: 'All they need to do is delete names from the automated list when the GP thinks it’s inappropriate to send a letter – if, for example, a patient is already being treated or receiving end of life care.'

A similar study published last year showed that GP practice-headed letters could lead to 40,000 extra patients participating in bowel cancer screening.

Readers' comments (13)

  • X.Ray

    Perhaps the Queen could write to them. Jeremy Hunt will hopefully twiddling his back bench fingers within the next few days so perhaps he could write to them. As for me, my staff and I are a tad busy doing everything f@cking thing else and letters dont get typed and posted for free.

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  • "GPs encouraged..." Actually we have not been encouraged. Perhaps £50/letter would count as encouragement?
    "anything that works to increase bowel screening should be considered" As long as we can get dozy GPs to add to their "ideally placed to do for nothing"
    I wonder if Dr Roope works for Cancer Research UK pro bono?

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  • GoneDoc

    'GPs are encouraged' to take on yet another aspect of someone else's job. Can I get this straight, GPs aren't at all 'encouraged' by being continuously being asked to take on random bits of other people's work. Thanks all the same .

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  • Unfunded work

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  • no

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  • Tell us how much your will pay us per letter we will tell you if we can do it ,call it capitalism

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  • Vinci Ho

    Researchers are not the ones who provide our funding in general practice, full stop.

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  • £25 per letter and I'll consider it.

    Otherwise, two fingers rampant. I have enough to do.

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  • I think they want GPs to personally hand the letter to the person.I am sure that it will increase the uptake.

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  • 'all they need to do is delete a name from the automated list when the gp thinks its inappropriate' ?! how much time are they willing to pay for a gp to LOOK at the notes to see if they think it's inappropr....oh never mind.

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