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Relaunched cancer campaign set to increase GP visits

Referrals for colorectal cancer have risen 50% in some areas

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Government has announced its national bowel cancer awareness campaign is to be relaunched next month, prompting a rise in visits to GPs from patients.

The four-week national advertising campaign will run from 28 August as an ongoing effort to boost early detection rates of cancer by encouraging people with symptoms to see their GP.

This follows the Be Clear on Cancer campaign that ran for nine weeks from the end of January to March, which followed pilots in some parts of the country last year.

A new letter sent to all NHS trusts and health authorities from national clinical director for cancer Professor Mike Richards announced the refreshed campaign as well as other awareness campaigns due to happen next year for different types of cancer.

In the letter, Professor Richards said the first Be Clear on Cancer campaign had led to an increase in two-week wait GP referrals for suspected colorectal cancer in February and March.

These referrals increased by around 50% in those regions which had not previously been involved in pilot campaigns, but there was a wide range of figures – the East of England observed a 48% increase in two week wait referrals, but the increase in the South West was only 5.5%.

In the letter, Professor Richards said: “It has always been recognised that we need sustained effort to deliver earlier diagnosis of cancer and we want to keep running these campaigns so the key messages become well embedded.”

He acknowledged that there could be additional pressure on NHS services, but said this had been anticipated.

“We know from the previous national campaigns that the extra attendances at GP surgeries are quite manageable, but that the referrals on to secondary care can result in significant pressure.

“Early data from the national bowel campaign does show an overall increase in activity (both referrals to secondary care and endoscopy activity) however the impact second time round might be less acute as seen by the reduced increases in referrals in one of the original pilot regions.

“In addition, there will be a reduced level of TV advertising in the repeat campaign and we know that TV is the key medium for driving up activity.

“Nevertheless, it is important that NHS commissioners and providers plan for the additional demand on secondary care services and continue to review this part of the cancer pathway.”

A report from the Department of Health published last month about the £9m pilots run in 2010-11 found they had no impact on people’s awareness of common symptoms.

After the summer, the Department plans to continue the awareness campaign but vary its methods to “test different campaign approaches”. This will include some areas having paid-for advertising, while others will use community action.

In January to March of next year, the Department will run regional pilots for blood in urine (kidney and bladder cancer) and breast cancer symptoms in women over 70. Local campaigns for ovarian cancer will also follow next year.

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