Pilot sites for community pharmacies to refer patients with signs of possible cancer delayed

Exclusive: Pharmacy representatives from two of the the four areas that had signed up to provide the pilot service have said they are experiencing delays, while one cancer alliance has pulled out of the scheme.
older man coughing

Pilot sites for pharmacies to directly refer patients with signs of possible cancer for assessment have been delayed, The Pharmaceutical Journal has learned.

It was expected that 40 community pharmacies across two cancer alliances would start to test the service from January 2023, with pharmacies in two further cancer alliances coming on stream in March or April 2023, after the scheme was first announced by NHS England in June 2022.

Under the scheme, pharmacists taking part will be expected to spot signs of cancer — such as a cough that lasts for three weeks or more, difficulty swallowing or blood in a patient’s urine — and refer patients for scans and checks without needing to see a GP first.

In response to a freedom of information request, NHS England told The Pharmaceutical Journal in December 2022 that four cancer alliances were selecting 20 community pharmacies each to take part in the pilot.

However, one of the four cancer alliances has now pulled out of the service and pharmacy representatives in areas covered by two of the other three alliances say pharmacies in their area have yet to begin providing the service.

The Pharmaceutical Journal has been told that Peninsula Cancer Alliance — which covers patients across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the fourth area that is taking part in the scheme — has started referring patients

A spokesperson for Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it had pulled out of the project and in both Greater Manchester and Thames Valley — two of the other cancer alliance areas due to pilot the scheme — there have been delays in getting the project off the ground.

In Greater Manchester, Luvjit Kandula, director of pharmacy transformation for Community Pharmacy Greater Manchester, said there had been “delays moving forward” with the pilot.

“[Greater Manchester] is still scoping the pilot with the cancer clinical leads and discussing various elements,” she said, adding that because it was “taking longer than expected”, they could not yet confirm how many pharmacies would be signing up to the pilot.

Kandula added there had been a good response in terms of expressions of interest from pharmacies but, because of the delay, the process would have to be repeated once details had been agreed.

David Dean, chief executive for Community Pharmacy Thames Valley, commented: “We are still waiting for the Cancer Alliance to agree pathways with our local trusts.”

Across the country, there are 21 cancer alliances, which bring together health and social care organisations to coordinate cancer care and aim to improve outcomes for patients.

The pilot scheme was announced following the Department of Health and Social Care response to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s review of cancer services in June 2022, which said: “Pharmacies are well placed to spot people presenting with ‘red flag’ potential cancer symptoms during a healthy lifestyle intervention, when they come to buy medicine or pick up a prescription, or when they visit a pharmacy seeking advice.”

The Pharmaceutical Journal has approached NHS England for comment.

  • This article was updated on 26 October 2023 to confirm that Peninsula Cancer Alliance has started referring patients through the pilot scheme
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, October 2023, Vol 311, No 7978;311(7978)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.198856

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