People with potential signs of cancer will be able to be assessed and referred for hospital examination at street pharmacies as part of new NHS plans to speed up diagnosis of the disease.

The scheme will mean that people in England suffering from lumps, coughs, bleeding or other symptoms of cancer will no longer need to see a GP before being referred to a specialist. This will alleviate some of the workload for beleaguered family physicians and provide patients with another option.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, announced the initiative in a speech on Tuesday to thousands of senior health service executives at the organization’s annual conference.

Pritchard touted it as a major innovation to help him reach his goal of increasing the number of cancers in England found at an early and more treatable stage by half to three-quarters by 2028. Britain has long had a poor record in early cancer detection compared with other European countries.

Hundreds of pharmacists have already expressed interest in becoming the first people to be trained in this new role. They will be able to refer people whose symptoms they think may be signs of cancer for diagnostic tests, such as a CT scan or endoscopy.

The program will initially run as a pilot project in an undisclosed number of areas in England.

However, GP leaders have warned that pharmacists could miss cancer cases unless they are trained in detecting the disease to the same high standard as family doctors.

Pritchard also revealed that people at risk of liver cancer, which is closely associated with heavy drinking, will be able to get scanned in the back of trucks from this month. These will be parked near doctors’ surgeries, in town centres, in supermarkets and near homeless shelters and food banks, to encourage groups who often do not seek advice on symptoms cancer for months after they appear, like men and those in poorer areas. .

A similar initiative has detected dozens of lung cancer cases earlier than if those involved had finally gone to discuss their concerns with their GP. NHS England is also launching a new genetic testing program for breast cancer gene mutations in people of Jewish descent, who are 10 times more likely to have them than the general population.

“From liver trucks traveling across the country to genetic testing and street checks, we want to make it as easy as possible for those most at risk to get lifesaving, life-saving tests,” the boss said. from the NHS in Liverpool.

Cancer charities said the plans could help speed up diagnosis. “By changing the way people interact with health services, we have the potential to help diagnose more cancers at an earlier and more treatable stage,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.

Nick James, professor of prostate and bladder cancer research at the Institute of Cancer Research, said pharmacists’ assessments could improve the NHS’ poor record of early diagnosis: “One in three cancers in UK is diagnosed in A&E. For many of these patients, their cancer will have spread and they will have less chance of surviving.

“The UK lags behind many other European countries in cancer survival. Innovative healthcare initiatives that help promote early cancer diagnosis should be strongly supported.

Dr Richard Van Mellaerts, a member of the leadership team of the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee, welcomed the initiative. “Having more staff in the community who are trained to detect the signs of cancer just makes sense,” he said, but added: “It is essential that any training in cancer detection meets the standards to which GPs are working, to make sure no potential cases are missed.”

Professor Martin Marshall, President of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs already work closely with colleagues working in community pharmacy and we have great respect for their skills.

“What is vital is that pharmacists participating in the program have the appropriate training and support – both to identify potential signs of cancer and to support patients who may be worried or anxious – and that there is have sufficient capacity in subsequent services to meet increased demand against existing backlogs.