We should be using pharmacists to spot the early signs of cancer

Pharmacists always get my vote, but are we underusing this group of highly trained ­specialists?

Could they serve as early diagnosis hubs to spot signs of cancer and improve cancer survival rates?

A report by University College London says they could.

It says pharmacists could refer people with persistent lung cancer symptoms – such as breathlessness and a cough – directly for a chest X-ray without seeing their GP.

The call was backed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the British Lung Foundation, who said pharmacists are often best placed to spot early symptoms of lung cancer.

The report by the UCL School of Pharmacy proposes a strategy to save 5,000 lives and double lung cancer survival rates by 2030.

It adds: “Community pharmacies provide a convenient and accessible place for people to present with symptoms that they may be concerned about.

“This could be a pivotal point at which people could be appropriately referred into either general practice or maybe in the future, directly into secondary care for further clinical assessment and diagnosis. ­

“Community pharmacists and their teams could provide screening services to enable early cancer diagnosis.”

Dr Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, added: “The potential is huge. Community and hospital pharmacists have an ­important role to play in improving prevention, treatment and care.

“Community pharmacies are where people go when they have a persistent cough, and especially in deprived areas, it is often easier for patients to see a pharmacist than a GP.”

Dr Cook added that it makes sense for pharmacists to be able to refer patients directly to hospital, rather than sending them back to their GP for a referral, to save patients’ time.

She said: “If I’m standing in front of a pharmacist and I’m over 55 and a smoker, why can’t I just go straight for a hospital scan instead of to a GP?”

The UCL report also said: “One opportunity for the 2020s could be to develop pharmacies as not only healthy living and self-care support centres, but as early diagnosis hubs.

“In the oncology context, this would have the objective of enhancing prevention and, when possible, ­identifying cancers before they have metastasised.

“The introduction of technologies, such as AI-backed risk assessment and cancer tests based on blood sampling, offer pharmacies new opportunities to contribute to health improvement.”

Pharmacists are crucial members of patients’ care teams.

You should soon be able to get statins directly from pharmacies without a prescription, and you can also have blood pressure checks, cholesterol tests and mobile heart scans.