Pharmacists will be funded to spot signs of cancer and refer patients for appropriate further testing in a new community pharmacy pilot in all areas across the country.

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.

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.

Pharmacies can play an important role in spotting signs of cancer

Speaking at the NHS Confed Expo conference in Liverpool, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said that during 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.

She added: “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.”

The latest action plan follows the successful rollout of targeted lung trucks across the country, with more than 30,000 people invited for checks every month in mobile vehicles outside supermarkets and football stadiums, and hundreds of cancers diagnosed earlier.

NHS ‘one stop shops’ have already delivered over one million checks and tests, including for cancer, since the rollout began, with over 90 community diagnostic centres (CDCs) offering MRI, CT and other services closer to patients’ homes, often in the heart of local communities.

Helga Mangion, Policy Manager at the National Pharmacy Association, added: “Earlier diagnosis of cancer gives a better chance of successful treatment. As a highly accessible healthcare setting, pharmacies can play an important role in spotting signs of cancer and make appropriate referrals into NHS care.

"The community pharmacy cancer diagnosis pilot is a great opportunity to further expand the clinical role of pharmacy teams, increase early detection rates and improve outcomes for patients. This initiative builds on the skills of a highly-trained workforce and the fact that pharmacy staff know their patients well and see them regularly”.