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.