Dr Nick Tupper blog: Doncaster pharmacists are helping fight lung cancer

nicktupperWe’ve just launched a pioneering new lung cancer early warning scheme with some of Doncaster’s community pharmacists.

NHS Doncaster CCG is funding the scheme – which we believe is the first of its kind in the country – to enable pharmacists to directly refer for an x-ray anyone they think has the early signs and symptoms of lung cancer.

Lung is one of the three biggest cancer killers in Doncaster and something we’re attacking on several fronts to try and achieve quicker detection and diagnostic times for Doncaster people – including working with Doncaster Rovers on the Tackle lung cancer early and get extra time awareness campaign.

Local GPs know what to look for, but we’ve now got more eyes and ears on the ground looking and listening for the tell-tale signs in the shape of local pharmacists, who are tried and trusted experts on the high street.

We’ve provided special training sessions so they know what to spot when someone comes into their pharmacy. To be eligible patients must be registered with a GP practice that has signed up to the scheme.

The scheme targets patients aged over 40, who are current or ex-smokers, who go along to their local pharmacy for cough medicine, nicotine replacement therapy, pain killers, nutritional supplements, or chest problems. Counter staff will alert the pharmacist who will then ask the customer if they could have a confidential chat.

During that discussion, the pharmacist will explore their health and, with their consent, refer them for an urgent  x-ray if they have at least one of the following conditions: a cough lasting three weeks or more; fatigue; shortness of breath; chest pain; weight loss; appetite loss, soughing up blood; or persistent chest infections.

The pharmacist will explain the x-ray process and also contact their GP to let them know. The hospital chest consultant will send the x-ray results to the GP and a copy to the pharmacist. Any follow-up care will be managed by the GP and consultant.

Lung cancer survivor Alan German has been involved in the training, with hospital consultant Moe Kyi. Alan beat the disease 13 years ago through early detection prompted by his pharmacist wife, Diana Taylor. He collapsed on holiday after a bit of strenuous activity and a visit to hospital led to a chest x-ray which revealed lung cancer at an early, treatable stage.

A number of Doncaster pharmacies are taking part in the trial and I’m pleased to say that, as this column went to press, one Doncaster person had already been referred to hospital for an x-ray after an alert pharmacist spotted the potential symptoms of lung cancer.

The scheme is being trialled for 12 months and will be evaluated as it goes along to see how successful it is. We’re hopeful that each pharmacy could make up to a dozen x-ray referrals during the year.

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