Staff in high street pharmacies will be funded to spot signs of cancer as part of a new drive to catch tumours early when they are easier to treat, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard announced today.

Customers will then be sent for scans and other checks under the initiative, which is being trialled by pharmacies as part of radical NHS action that also includes roaming liver scan trucks and a targeted genetic testing programme.

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to increasing the proportion of cancers caught early, when they are easier to treat, from half to three in four.

The community pharmacy pilot, to be carried out in areas across the country, will see staff spot signs of cancer in people who might not have noticed symptoms.

Those with symptoms including a cough that lasts for three weeks or more, difficulty swallowing or blood in their urine will be referred direct for scans and checks without needing to see a GP if staff think it could be cancer.

Speaking at the NHS Confed Expo conference in Liverpool, Amanda Pritchard will say: “The NHS will not rest in our efforts to catch cancer early and save more lives.

“Throughout the pandemic, NHS staff developed new and innovative ways to ensure patients could get cancer checks and treatment as normal, including by providing COVID safe drugs and delivering chemo at home.

“NHS staff have continued this innovation; from liver trucks travelling around the country to genetic testing and high street checks, we want to make it as easy as possible for those most at risk to get vital, lifesaving tests.

“These plans have the power to truly transform the way we find and treat cancer, and ultimately spare thousands of patients and their families from avoidable pain and loss”.

From this month, roaming liver trucks will also start to offer on the spot scans for people most at risk of getting liver cancer.

Hundreds of people are expected to be scanned in the community as the mobile scanners visit GP practices, town centres, and foodbanks to encourage the uptake of quick, non-invasive scans.

The NHS will also launch a new programme of genetic testing for BRCA mutations for people with Jewish heritage who are at higher risk of mutations, with up to one in 40 people affected, compared with 1 in 400 in the general population.

This is expected to identify thousands more BRCA carriers over the next three years so they can seek early access to further surveillance and prevention programmes.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Ensuring patients can access diagnosis and treatment easily in their communities and on high streets is a fundamental part of our 10-Year Cancer Plan.

“Harnessing ground-breaking innovations such as this will save lives and help us achieve our ambition of being the best place in Europe for cancer care.

“This will also build on the progress we are making to tackle the COVID backlog, already delivering over one million additional scans through over 90 new community diagnostic centres and halving the number of people on the longest waiting lists in the last four months”.


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