Known as GatewayC, the online training tool has already shown promising early signs of supporting earlier cancer diagnosis, according to those behind the initiative at a specialist trust.
“It will help to support GPs and primary care staff to develop their skills and knowledge in this crucial area”
The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester said its tool was designed to support GPs and other primary care staff in identifying which patients need urgent investigation by a specialist.
With patients three times more likely to survive cancer if diagnosed at an early stage, primary care staff play a critical role in detecting cancer, often as the “first port of call”, noted the trust.
However, the specialist oncology trust said audit data suggested that a quarter of cancer patients visited their GP three or more times before being sent to hospital for a diagnosis to be made.
Further data showed only 50% of patients were diagnosed at an early stage, when more treatment options were available, said the Christie.
The new tool’s training focuses on clinical decision making, using realistic videos of patients and doctors (both played by actors) based on the experiences of real patients, both good and bad.
This is then combined with expert input from GPs, cancer specialists and charities including Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.
“It is critical that the primary care workforce are armed with the tools they need”
Pilot study results, published November 2017, found increased confidence from clinical staff in deciding which patients need an urgent referral to hospital with a suspected cancer diagnosis.
Improvements have also been reported in the recording of potential cancer symptoms and in communicating more effectively with patients that are being sent for tests.
More than 2,000 users are already using the tool ahead of an England-wide rollout. It is currently available in the North of England and parts of London and the South.
But from August the new early diagnosis training tool will be available to every GP and primary care professional across the country free of charge, through funding from Health Education England.
Laura Roberts, director of skills, development and participation at national body HEE, said: “Cancer survival is the best it has ever been, with thousands more people now surviving cancer every year.
“The NHS Long Term Plan makes clear, however, that one of the most important actions the NHS can take to further improve survival is earlier diagnosis,” she said.
The recently published long-term plan set a target to increase the number of patients diagnosed with cancer at an early stage (stages 1 or 2) from 50% to 75% by 2028.
Ms Roberts added: “We are very pleased to be working with GatewayC on the development and rollout of this new tool and believe it will help to support GPs and primary care staff to develop their skills and knowledge in this crucial area and help to improve cancer survival.”
Dr Catherine Heaven, GatewayC programme director and associate director of education at the Christie, said: “GatewayC was developed to empower primary care staff with good-quality, evidence-based, and behaviour-changing education, in a form they can easily access.
“We are delighted that Health Education England has recognised GatewayC as part of the solution in changing cancer outcomes by funding the tool for every cancer professional across NHS England.”
Dr Anthony Cunliffe, Macmillan Cancer Support’s national lead GP adviser, said: “Early diagnosis can make a difference to someone’s survival chances, treatment options and quality of life.
“Having access to educational tools such as GatewayC is essential to help GPs to diagnose people earlier and support people living with cancer to live well as well as live longer.”
Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK senior clinical advisor for primary care, said: “Although UK cancer survival is at an all-time high, it is critical that the primary care workforce are armed with the tools they need to support the NHS’s target to diagnose 75% of cancers at an early stage by 2028.”