Attached photo shows Dr Sriram Iyer, project lead and consultant respiratory physician with East Cheshire NHS Trust.
Pharmacists helping to catch lung cancer early in new Eastern Cheshire project
17 March 2017

Community pharmacists are helping to diagnose lung cancer earlier as part of a potentially life-saving new pilot project in Eastern Cheshire.

Pharmacists across the area can now refer customers they suspect may have lung cancer directly to Macclesfield District General Hospital for an x-ray, without the patient needing to see their GP first.

It is hoped that this will save time in diagnosing the illness which is particularly important as lung cancer patients often fail to act on symptoms promptly. More than two thirds of cases are diagnosed at the latter two stages of the disease (stages 3 and 4), making successful treatment difficult.

Now, anyone who approaches a pharmacist in Eastern Cheshire requesting medication for chest problems and fulfils relevant criteria will be offered the direct referral for a chest x-ray. A process is in place to act swiftly on any abnormal results and it is hoped that the time saved, together with the more proactive approach avoiding the need for patients to make an appointment with their GP, may save lives.

Project lead Dr Sriram Iyer (pictured above) is a consultant respiratory physician with East Cheshire NHS Trust, the organisation which runs Macclesfield Hospital. He said: “Sadly all too often, lung cancer isn’t diagnosed in patients until the later stages of the disease when it becomes very difficult to treat.

“This is partly because many patients often put off seeking advice from their GP for symptoms like chest pains and persistent coughs, perhaps because they fear finding out they have lung cancer or because the symptoms are mistaken for ‘normal’ coughs and chest irritation. A significant proportion of patients avoid seeking help for so long that they are only diagnosed after attending an Accident and Emergency department, which they have gone to because their symptoms have become so severe.  

“Through this project we hope to speed up the diagnosis of people with lung cancer both by streamlining the process and by capturing patients who might not have made an appointment with their GP but will go to their local pharmacy for advice and medication. We hope it will potentially save or extend lives and this is a good example of how we can utilise the expertise of community pharmacists and further integrated working between different partners in the local health economy.” 

In 2013 Lung Cancer caused 28,000 deaths in England and 69% of people were diagnosed with stage III and IV of the disease, which is largely incurable.

NHS Eastern Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group is fully supporting the initiative along with local GPs, who are already able to directly refer patients they suspect may have lung cancer for x-rays at Macclesfield Hospital.

Suzanne Austin, contractor support pharmacist working for Community Pharmacy Cheshire and Wirral, said: “Community pharmacies are ideally placed to support the referral of patients for chest x-rays. Pharmacists and their counter assistants are trained to ask questions of patients when they come in to buy medicines and will pick up on signs and symptoms which would identify patients who would benefit from an x-ray. Now they can direct the patient straight to the hospital for quicker access to an x-ray, reducing the time for a diagnosis which could be vital with lung cancer.”

Local pharmacies can also offer help, advice and treatment for lots of common conditions. A list of local pharmacies across Eastern Cheshire and their opening hours can be found here on East Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s website.