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GP receptionists to be trained to spot cancer symptoms

by Julie Griffiths
21 August 2023

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GP receptionists in some practices are to be trained in red flag cancer symptoms as part of a £1.5m training programme to drive improvements in cancer care.

The training will enable receptionists to identify symptoms so they can raise concerns with GPs. The same initiative will also train GPs around more vague symptoms of cancer such as weight loss, loss of appetite, and fatigue.

It is part of a ThinkCancer! programme of research called the Wales Interventions and Cancer Knowledge about Early Diagnosis (WICKED).

The training element, being jointly funded by Cancer Research Wales (CRW) and North West Cancer Research, covers 80 practices in Wales and North West England, two areas that suffer from relatively poor cancer survival rates due to late cancer diagnosis.

Research by CRW showed that more than 60% of patients visit their GP when they have symptoms that could be linked to cancer.

But initial research by WICKED found that half of GPs said they lacked confidence in their ability to quickly refer patients with vague cancer symptoms.

It also found a varied use of national referral guidelines. And it revealed that when GPs did refer patients, they experienced barriers from ‘overwhelmed’ secondary care services.

The training programme was first trialled across 19 GP practices before the rollout. 

It involves a three-part workshop, which consists of training for GPs around cancer diagnosis, a cancer awareness session for all practice staff and a whole-team session, as well as the appointment of appointing a cancer champion at the practice.

Cleona Jones, practice manager of The Practice of Health, Barry, took part in the initial trial and described it as ‘a positive experience’ that has ‘helped us to work as a united front in improving cancer diagnosis in primary care’.

 ‘By having everybody involved, from receptionists to staff across the entire practice, we all got to learn, share, and hear everyone’s perspectives on the issue,’ she said.

Dr Lee Campbell, Head of Research at CRW, said that as cancer symptoms can vary and are shared with other more prevalent and less serious conditions, it was important to find ‘smarter, and more informed ways of working’ to help diagnose suspected cancers earlier.

He said that the intervention was based on the identified needs of GPs and primary care staff across Wales and it was ‘groundbreaking’.

‘If successful, the study will provide a model that can be replicated across many different disease types,’ said Dr Lee.