Public health officials are re-running a national ‘Blood in Pee’ cancer awareness campaign later this year after a regional pilot showed the campaign nearly tripled GP visits for macroscopic haematuria and boosted urological cancer diagnoses by a fifth.
However, despite welcoming the increase in diagnoses, GP leaders warned the re-run of the national campaign – set for the autumn – would put GPs under even greater pressure at a busy period of the year when practices are already struggling to cope with workloads, and called on managers to rethink the timing of the national re-run.
The ‘Blood in Pee’ campaign – part of the Government’s flagship ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ awareness raising programme – involved publicity targeted at the over-50s around the strapline: ‘If you notice blood in your pee, even if it’s just the once, tell your doctor straight away.’ The campaign was run nationally over October and November last year, following a pilot run from January to March the same year.
Detailed results from the pilot – run by the North of England Cancer Network as part of the Government’s ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ series of awareness campaigns – were unveiled this week at the National Cancer Intelligence Network conference in Birmingham.
They showed there was a 32% increase in GP visits for macroscopic haematuria during the campaign period in pilot practices, compared with a 12% increase in control sites outside the campaign area. This was accompanied by a 28% increase in urgent referrals for suspected urological cancers in pilot practices compared with a 9% increase elsewhere.
Overall the increase in awareness and referrals was associated with a 22% rise in urological cancer diagnoses following two-week wait referral – with 48% and 47% more bladder and kidney cancer diagnoses made, respectively. There was a much smaller 9% rise in diagnoses elsewhere.
The researchers concluded: ‘Positive impacts were seen across all of the available metrics, with an increase in public awareness of bladder and kidney cancers, GP presentations for macroscopic haematuria, urgent referrals and subsequent diagnoses and diagnostic tests.’
They added: ‘All of these suggest that the campaign could have a positive impact on cancer outcomes, but analysis of staging and survival data, when available is needed to be sure.’
The latest findings come after public health officials sent a circular to CCGs to announce they had decided to run a reminder national campaign as a result of positive early findings.
Dr Ivan Camphor, medical secretary at mid-Mersey LMC, said the pilot’s success was laudable but warned GPs could not keep sustaining the extra workload of such campaigns – and questioned the timing of the national re-run.
Dr Camphor said: ‘It’s great news in that it shows what real potential there is in primary care to do some good work to provide early detection and prevention – and that’s to be applauded.
‘But you can’t expect general practice to keep delivering at the level the Government expects. Funds have been reduced and we’ve been asked to do more. You can’t run on more for less and expect to have quality all the time.’
He added: ‘The timing is poor, especially when we’re all running a flu campaign and coming into the winter season and all the issues around that – so it’s going to be an issue.’
Dr John Grenville, chair of Derbyshire LMC said GPs in some areas would not be able to cope with another surge in visits and said the Government should rethink the national reminder campaign.
Dr Grenville said: ‘The increase in visits is more than many areas of the country will be able to bear – given the recruitment and retention crisis in general practice. They need to match this sort of campaign with the resources.’
He added: ‘I think they need to rethink it. The autumn is a crazy time to run a campaign because everybody will be busy immunising people against flu, including the new cohort of kids.’
Professor Kevin Fenton, national director for health and wellbeing at Public Health England said: “We understand the pressures GPs are under and, as last year, will end the campaign by the last week in November, to minimise impact in the run up to Christmas. As before, we will be supporting GPs by producing a briefing sheet to help them prepare for the campaign.”