This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs to be trained by charities to ‘think cancer’

GPs to be trained by charities to ‘think cancer’

Two cancer charities are about to start a £1.5m training programme for GPs and receptionists urging them to ‘think cancer’.

The project, covering 80 practices in Wales and North West England, aims to help GP teams implement new processes and improved safety-netting procedures.

This includes training receptionists to raise concerns with the GP if a patient is showing red-flag symptoms. 

According to research carried out by Cancer Research Wales and North West Cancer Research around half of GPs ‘lack confidence’ in their ability to quickly refer patients with vague cancer symptoms.

The research across 19 GP practices showed use of national referral guidelines varied across Wales. 

It also revealed that when GPs did refer patients, they experienced barriers from ‘overwhelmed’ secondary care services.

As well as training receptionists to raise concerns about ‘red flag symptoms’, the initiative will also focus on training for GPs around vague symptoms such as weight loss, loss of appetite, and fatigue.

According to Cancer Research Wales (CRW), the country has the lowest cancer survival rate for the most common cancer types when compared to other countries with similar health systems. 

Dr Nefyn Williams, a GP in Llanfairfechan who took part in the initial trial, said the full-scale ThinkCancer! programme ‘will help us provide more evidence that this intervention can save lives’.

He said: ‘When people come to us with symptoms, we want them to know we’re taking them seriously.

‘During the first phase of this trial, the ThinkCancer! intervention encouraged the whole practice team – from clinicians to the patient navigation team – to focus on the early detection of cancer, especially for patients presenting with vague symptoms.

‘The earlier we diagnose cancer, the earlier we can start treatment, meaning there is a better chance of curing.’ 

This phase of the ThinkCancer! study was first announced in February to coincide with World Cancer Day, however CRW has confirmed that the intervention will begin in the coming weeks. 

Recent NHS figures showed that GPs are referring more patients than ever for suspected cancer, and the number of patients being referred via urgent cancer pathways rose by 7% in May 2022 to April 2023 compared with the previous year.


Visit Pulse Reference for details on 140 symptoms, including easily searchable symptoms and categories, offering you a free platform to check symptoms and receive potential diagnoses during consultations.


Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David Church 11 August, 2023 7:06 pm

A ridiculously clear case of ‘asking the worng question’.
GPs don;t lack confidence in detecting or thinking of cancer in the face of vague symptoms;
GPs lack confidence in being able to quickly refer such patients.
Because referrals of such patients are very unwelcome and will be blocked at every possible opportunity by secondary care !
Perhaps the 2 charities could reduce the referral waiting lists instead of wasting time on trying to give GPs redundant training that they have already had?
I bet it was some secondary care specialist who is behind this!

Anonymous 11 August, 2023 7:23 pm

How insulting.

Receptionists are not and will never be clinicians. Asking them to raise concerns if someone has a red flag is beyond mad.

I would expect them to book them in, that’s about it.

If you had 6 weeks of cough and you are a smoker, I can see you in my next slot, not this second, because the receptionist pressed a panic button.

Piss right off.

Dr No 11 August, 2023 11:21 pm

Oh shit what is this cancer thing? I never got any training about that. Too busy with my inclusivity training and unconscious racial bias training to bother with that neoplasia bullshit. Sign me up now!

Dylan Summers 12 August, 2023 12:21 pm

@Dr No

I’ve just been reading up about this “cancer”. Apparently it’s a thing. Sounds really bad, too. Can’t believe we haven’t been trained about it till now!

Dave Haddock 12 August, 2023 4:51 pm

Main problem is inadequate access to diagnostic testing and specialist opinion. How training will help with that?
But meanwhile, whilst awaiting the miraculous arrival of MRI machines and Radiologists, rather less remote triage and a rather more seeing patients might?

Michael Mullineux 14 August, 2023 9:55 am

Train GPs to refer more whilst diagnostic testing and specialist opinion targets that have not been met since 2015 are removed to improve care? Go figure

Darren Tymens 14 August, 2023 9:59 am

It does sound rather patronising.
If the state really wanted to improve cancer outcomes, they would
– invest in general practice capacity so we could see more people in a timely manner and not be exhauseted when we do see them
– invest in the right capacity – more GPs and fewer anxillary staff like ARRS roles (the current balance is all wrong)
– invest to give us longer appointment times – a minimum of 15 minutes and preferably longer so we can sort problems out
– make sure that secondary care services had capacity and productivity to reach the two week target (the new targets being advertised today are a clear deterioration in aspirations and pretty awful for patients)
– improve GP access to diagnostics
– set up secondary care clinics to rapidly see and assess patients we are worried about that don’t fit clear 2 week rule criteria
Perhaps the charities could lobby the government for these changes, instead of literally telling us the basics of our job?
Or is it that the real solutions are too difficult and too expensive, so we have to have ‘training programmes’ like this so that the charity and NHSE can pretend to be doing something useful?

Carpe Vinum 14 August, 2023 4:31 pm

Got to agree with all of the above – if there is a GP in the country who doesn’t have cancer on their radar all the time I’d be surprised, and the barriers to referral are sometimes mind-blowing.
And rather than the stable door approach beloved of NHSE how about we spend money as a nation on the easy preventables – you know, mundane things like stopping smoking, exercise, less obesity, better diet, less social inequality, less red meat, lower alcohol intake, heavily subsidised sun-screen….
Sorry, silly me – they don’t make for vote-grabbing headlines in the Daily Wail…

Michael Green 14 August, 2023 7:25 pm

What’s cancer? Never heard of it

James Cuthbertson 15 August, 2023 3:22 pm

Hi Doc can you help with my terrible depression?

Hm let’s see- how are you feeling?

Totally worthless, hopeless, fatigued, headaches, no appetite…..

Backup there, headaches ey? Let’s fastrack you for a brain scan to rule out cancer

Er ok…. But is it not just my depression?

Yes maybe but this is the new style of medicine. Look for anything which might spell cancer and get a test ASAP!

But what about my depression?

Oh forget that you are getting a test to rule out cancer!!!! Be grateful FFS