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Opinion: ‘We need to increase testing in primary care’

Professor Willie Hamiltonguidance put forward by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence( NICE) in 2015 was the high citadel of testing smarter: the previous advice in 2005 simply not having fairly manifestation behind its recommendations. The other paradigm-shifting in 2015 was the decision to give an definite peril of cancer that warranted urgent testing- and in being ambitious in give it as low as 3 %. Even more liberal was encouraging GP testing at lower risks than 3 %.

But if we stick to the 3% rule outlined in the NICE guidance- that you urgently pertain or do tests only if someone’s evidences liken to a 3% risk of cancer or greater, there will be some people that will never get testing and will end up presenting as an emergency. We will only be able to capture those people if we’re prepared to test more. We can only experiment more if we make it case friendly and economically friendly. Both of those factors point towards stationing it closer to the patient- in general practice or on the high-pitched street.

This won’t work for all introductions I hasten to add- GPs will still need to refer patients to hospital for some research. We don’t have the technology in primary care to do the tests for the status of women with a breast oaf, for example, so we need to get the experts involved. But there are many other cancers where you can move towards more measuring outside of infirmaries. Things like chest X-rays, blood counts, platelet countings, but likewise more sophisticated experiments like CA125 or ultrasound to pick up potential ovarian cancer and in the future potentially blood tests that pick up cell-free DNA.

GPs are evolving

It’s a win-win. From a patient view- the closer to home you can do tests, the easier, more familiar, and hopefully nicer, it are likely to be. It’s also likely to be cheaper, and you may get your results back quicker- because at least you’ve got your GP’s phone number.

The question is- are we blurring the line by moving more testing to primary health care or community settings such as community diagnostic centres recently recommended in Professor Sir Mike Richards’ review of diagnostic works? Some GPs may say yes, some experts may say yes. It’s never about to become a unanimous decision- there are currently 40,000 GPs in the UK with I would imagine around 40,000 different opinions on the best way to deliver care.

But I would argue that the line has been blurring for years. Elongating the limits of primary care is a part of its history. The truth is primary care advances, GP rehearsals progress. In era, rehearsals that were inconceivable become the norm.

Take Faecal Immunochemical Testing( FIT ). It was used only as part of bowel screening, but a few years ago NICE returned it in to measure people who had low-risk indications below the threshold for referral for a colonoscopy for believed bowel cancer, but where something might be going on that needed investigating. It wasn’t a popular decision at first- there was great fright within the surgical community that using FIT in parties with such manifestations would lead to an influx of cases without ailment, which would overtake endoscopy services.

But the doomsayers missed two points that have turned out to be true. The first was, if someone had a positive FIT, they were no longer low-pitched jeopardy, they became quite high risk- 11% of people who tested positive went on to be diagnosed with bowel cancer. The other quality was they were lowering their threshold for testing anyway:' low-risk’ cases were being offered colonoscopies. Fair enough, as there was no other experiment. So bringing in FIT as a direction of sifting in primary care actually abbreviated pressing on endoscopy services.

The icing on the cake

There are so many reasons why increasing testing is smart-alecky. Firstly, cases miss it- if cancer is even a remote possibility people want to know. The interesting thing is, general practise is not simply painting by digits. I don’t especially like the utterance' gut feeling’, though intuition is a bit better. It’s experience: let’s call it the icing on the cake- the experience that helps a GP see something unusual, the classical' needle in the haystack’. Giving GPs more flexibility with how they can test will mean they can more easily navigate cases through the complex health care system we have.

But can the NHS cope? We know the NHS is stretched- and cancer is an area where professionals are living with limitations to the number of personnel and equipment they have available. But as we’ve seen a number of occasions, moving testing into a community setting- be that in GP practices or future society diagnostic hubs- can help alleviate pressure by helping to identify people who do need further measures or treatment.

And when it comes to GPs, I think we can handle it. I’m not saying we need to test everyone who comes through the door- we are experts in managing risk. I’m talking about one or two patients a week that warrant a more liberal approach to testing, you do a test and then if it’s positive, you refer them on. That’s not rocket science.

Of course, with more testing we may find more things that aren’t cancer, which could contribute to increased anxiety and more demand on the health services. But if we are to shift outcomes for cancer the method UK Government says it wants to, we have to be proactive and move looking for cancer , not wait for it to come to us. By that time, it could be too late.

And now may be the excellent season. Before COVID-1 9, general rule was struggling to provide the highest quality care that we want to offer. My peers were capsizing in a pile of paperwork, but also in their own achievers- we’re keeping parties in the UK alive for longer, and that conveys more parties to see and more plights to treat and manage.

It’s a strange thing to say, but COVID-1 9 might have saved general practice. It pushed us to redesign and take stock. The wholesale switch to remote consulting has shown us that there are ways of dealing with patients’ questions that are acceptable. There’s a lot of debate around that and how we’ll work in the future, but I think it’s safe to say that we’ll never 100% switch back.

As always, we’re evolving- and a shift towards increased testing to further drive an improved aftermaths for cases should be a part of that.

About the author

Professor Willie Hamilton specialises in primary health care diagnostics at the University of Exeter, with a particular expertise in cancer. He was clinical lead on the main NICE guidance' Referral for Suspected Cancer' NG12, published in 2015, which have contributed to meeting the target of reducing the number of avoidable cancer deaths in the UK by 10,000. Hamilton and his squad have been previously displayed Risk Assessment Tools for all major adult cancers, providing the GP and patient with an accurate gues of the risk of cancer when a patient reports manifestations to their GP.

Hamilton is a third generation physician from Belfast.

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