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Should GPs who do not diagnose cancer early be given the ‘red flag’?

The Mail on Sunday reported this week that GPs will be marked out with a red flag on an NHS website if they are repeatedly failing to spot the signs of cancer and not referring patients on.

This article includes a quote from our CEO, Ali Stunt, a pancreatic cancer survivor, who herself visited her GP surgery several times before being diagnosed. Ali says in the article: “40 per cent of patients with  pancreatic cancer have to visit their GP four times or more before being  referred. A tenth have to see them ten times or more.”

We agree that poor performers, those who continually ignore or dismiss patients, should be identified by the NHS.  Not to necessarily be ‘named and shamed’ but provided with the support and training they need to improve.

Britain lags behind other European countries when it comes to cancer survival rates and the main reason is late diagnosis.

Every year, over half of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed in A&E when the cancer is already advanced, and surgery is not a possibility.

Far too many pancreatic cancer patients are being diagnosed too late so having a system in place that seeks to increase the level of  accountability at primary care stage is vital.

While we don’t have an early detection test, we need the skill and the intuition of the GP to recognise the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and refer ASAP should they have suspicion of cancer. The onus too is on the patient to be better informed and also to push for referral if they think they have something serious.

While we can’t expect GPs to send everyone who complains of stomach pain for a CT scan, we need to ensure that patients who are experiencing worsening symptoms and repeatedly visiting their GP are taken seriously.

The importance here is in encouraging best practice – who is referring early and what are they doing that other GPs can learn from

At Pancreatic Cancer Action, we want to support GPs with better education and training so they know the signs and symptoms to look out for.  We run training courses and have developed an e-learning module for GPs on Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer in Primary Care – we wrote this alongside the Royal College of GPs.

The module is free to access, is hosted on the RCGP website and medical professionals will be awarded Continuing Professional Development (CPD) credits for taking part in the course. There is no need to be a member of the RCGP to take this course – but you will have to register with the e-learning part of their website to use the education tool. To access the course please click here.

If you would like to make your GP aware of the Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer in Primary Care e-learning module, contact us to order your copies of our leaflet to drop in to them, which gives all the information they need to access the course.