General practice will not be able to cope with the rising demand for cancer care unless the NHS makes radical improvements in areas such as diagnostics and training, a group of leading GPs and cancer experts has warned.
They argue that GPs need more support to take on a bigger role in cancer care, under Government plans to improve early cancer diagnosis and patients’ experience before and after treatment.
The doctors – who have produced a commission on cancer for the Lancet Oncology – said GPs’ cancer workload is predicted to double over the next 15 years as a result of the ageing population and improvements in cancer survival.
The team has outlined a range of measures that are needed to equip GPs with the information and skills to ‘fulfil their critical role in cancer care’, as well as improve integration between primary and secondary care.
These include better access to diagnostic tests underpinned by comprehensive guidelines, improved education and support, new models of shared care and greater communication between specialists and GPs.
Professor Greg Rubin, GP and primary care academic at the University of Durham, and the lead on the study, said: ‘With an ageing population and a rapidly increasing number of cancer survivors, the primary care cancer workload will increase substantially over the next ten years.
‘Our challenge is how to prepare primary care doctors as the cornerstone in prevention, early detection, survivorship and palliative care.’
Dr Richard Roope, clinical lead on cancer at the RCGP, said GP access to diagnostic tools such as CT and MRI scans in the UK is currently ‘one of the worst in Europe’ and called for ‘significant investment in general practice… as a matter of urgency’, so that GPs can ‘contribute to preventing cancers and where this is not possible, ensure patients receive the care they need at every stage of their condition’.