First referrals for ‘red flag’ cancer symptoms made under community pharmacy pilot  

Exclusive: It has been confirmed that 12 pharmacies in the East of England are now delivering the pilot and the first referral to specialist cancer services has been made.
Photo of a customer at a Tesco Pharmacy waiting on a script, with two pharmacists in surgical masks behind the counter

The first referrals have been made to specialist services under a community pharmacy pilot intended to help diagnose cancer earlier, The Pharmaceutical Journal has learned.  

Community pharmacies in the East of England North Cancer Alliance and Peninsula Cancer Alliance areas have started directly referring patients with ‘red flag’ cancer symptoms, such as a persistent cough, to secondary care or rapid diagnostic services, under the ‘Supporting early diagnosis of cancer’ pilot.

They are among five cancer alliances that have signed up to deliver the service, alongside Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance, South East London Cancer Alliance and Thames Valley Cancer Alliance.

The pilot, which was first announced in 2022, was originally planned to start in June 2023 but has faced a series of delays.

Tony Dean, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Norfolk, where the east of England North pilot is taking place, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the pilot “is progressing well”, adding that it had focused on pharmacy engagement and training during January and February 2024.

“All 21 pharmacies engaged with the pilot are now at increasingly advanced stages of preparation for service delivery.

“Twelve pharmacies are now, very recently, signed up and live, and the first referral to a rapid diagnostic services has been made,” he said.

The first referral has also been made under the Peninsula Cancer Alliance pilot, which covers patients across Devon, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly.

Jackie Lewis, owner of the Lewis Pharmacy in Exmouth, Devon, and pioneer of the ‘Not normal for you?’ community pharmacy scheme, has been training pharmacy teams participating in the pilot on how to recognise and discuss red flag cancer symptoms.

Lewis told The Pharmaceutical Journal that at least one cancer referral had been made by a community pharmacy under the pilot service so far.

However, she added that pharmacies “wanted to know more about the IT side of the project”.

“The NHS project team is working with the pharmacies to move the project forward,” Lewis said.

South East London Cancer Alliance, Thames Valley Cancer Alliance and Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance are yet to start running the pilot service.

A spokesperson for the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire & West Berkshire Integrated Care Board (BOB ICB) said that Thames Valley Cancer Alliance was “still working to scope out the feasibility” of its pilot.

David Dean, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Thames Valley, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the local pharmaceutical committee and BOB ICB had been “working hard” to deliver the pilot, but were “waiting for a specification that outlines clear pathways to enable our pharmacies across Thames Valley to be able to safely and efficiently refer patients to secondary care”.

“Without this we are unable to proceed,” he said.

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance said that the start date of the pilot had been delayed owing to a consultation with stakeholders.

“We hope to go live with the community pharmacists who have expressed an interest in April 2024, and we will be running the pilot for a year initially,” they said.

The spokesperson added that the pilot would begin running across three cancer pathways covering lung, head and neck, and gynaecological cancers.

A spokesperson for NHS South East London ICB told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the South East London Cancer Alliance pilot was due to start between April and June 2024.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2024, Vol 312, No 7983;312(7983)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.300257

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