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Independents' Day

GPs reject cervical cancer blame

By Lilian Anekwe

The Department of Health has been accused of spinning the findings of an independent review on cervical screening in order to blame GPs for failing to spot women with the disease.

Ministers announced last week that an independent advisory panel had ruled out lowering the age for cervical screening from 25 to 20, but had identified an ‘urgent need' to improve GP detection of young women with the disease.

The advisory committee on cervical screening has ‘reported concern that young women who present to their GPs with cervical cancer symptoms are not always being given appropriate advice' by GPs, the Department of Health claimed.

But Pulse has learned that even though missed diagnoses by GPs was not raised as a concern during the committee's meeting - and despite improving early detection by GPs not being a formal recommendation - health minister Ann Keen steamrolled over advice and pledged to take ‘immediate action' to clamp down on missed and delayed diagnoses by GPs.

Professor Mike Richards, national clinical director for cancer, said the DH would rush out new guidance for GPs to improve detection and prioritise a new audit of cervical cancer patients, to cut the time it took GPs to refer young women with suspected cervical cancer for investigation.

But Dr Surendra Kumar, a GP in Widnes, Cheshire and member of the advisory committee on cervical screening who attended the controversial meeting, blasted health minister Ann Keen for scapegoating GPs ‘in order to be seen to be doing something.'

‘I'm very upset at how this has been handled and I have made my feelings very clear in the strongest terms.

‘It never came across in the meeting that missed diagnosis was a serious concern and that was definitely not the consensus. They may have anecdotal evidence, but equally, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of GPs being very good.

‘Professor Richards and [ACCS chair] Professor Henry Kitchener said "we can't control the minister" but to interpret the conclusions of the meeting in a way that creates headlines that bash GPs just to be seen to be doing something is unfair. Women should be giving the right advice but it's far from a systemic problem.'

ACCS recommendations

- Guidelines for GPs on symptoms should be revisited and revised
- The GP research database should be examined to see what symptoms women presented with when their diagnosis was missed and how long the delay lasted
- Prospective audit of all women with cervical cancer to assess common symptoms prior to diagnosis
- More emphasis on inviting women aged 25-34 for screening in primary care

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