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GPs should not have to follow up on private screening, says RCGP

GPs asked to follow up on unapproved screening tests by private healthcare providers should remind them to adhere to government guidance, or notify the relevant regulator, the RCGP has said.

The college has drawn up a position statement stressing that GPs should not encourage non-evidenced-based screening that is not approved by the UK National Screening Committee, NICE, Health Improvement Scotland, Public Health Wales or the Department of Health Northern Ireland. 

The RCGP added that any private organisations recommending unapproved screening should schedule and pay for the follow-up procedures instead of dumping the burden on the NHS.

The position statement cited an informal social media survey the RCGP conducted in 2018 – in the absence of academic research – on how private screening impacts NHS services.

According to the results, 91% of 500 doctors had seen patients in an NHS appointment to discuss the results of a private health screening. In addition, 75% of the time, extra activities – such as another appointment, blood tests or imaging – were then arranged by the NHS.

The RCGP’s chair, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: ‘There is currently no legal responsibility on most of these commercial organisations to deliver or fund appropriate follow-up care to adequately support the people they target for health intervention checks – meaning that GPs and other healthcare professionals in NHS primary care are left to do this. Indeed, some companies actually recommend that their customers discuss results of their privately purchased tests with their GP.

‘As well as the obvious workload implications for general practice – at a time when our service is already under intense resource and workforce pressures – this sort of screening can cause huge amounts of stress and worry for some patients, and for others it can provide false and inappropriate findings.’

This comes after GPs voted to introduce a fee for conducting follow-up appointments for patients using private screening providers, earlier this year in March. 

GPs have also previously raised concerns over the increasing number of awareness campaigns, which result in ‘worried well’ patients going to get checked by their family doctor.