Consultants and doctors in Hastings and Rother have begun speed-dating in a move to improve cancer prevention and early diagnosis for their patients.
The unusual approach is aimed at getting greater numbers of people taking part in screening programmes and helping doctors refer the right patients for tests promptly.
The medics get together for informal, evening sessions, which are timed, and move tables when a bell rings. Like normal speed-dating, participants are hoping for positive relationships, but in this case, they are professional, medical ones.
Each ‘date’ is 15 minutes long, and each table has a different cancer speciality, like lung, breast, haematology, gastro intestinal and radiology.
The go-between for the dating sessions is a team of health facilitators from Cancer Research UK, who organise the ‘dates’ and make the introductions.
The Cancer Research UK Facilitators for the South East – Emily Burn and Sarah Spencer-Bowdage – have been working with GPs, hospitals and healthcare planners in Hastings and Rother Primary and Secondary Care.
The sessions have been a runaway success with both GPs and consultants asking for more.
“We’ve held two sessions so far and they have indeed led to some great relationships”, said Sarah.
“An average GP will see 8,000 patients a year but only around seven of those will turn out to have cancer. The huge challenge for doctors working within a constantly-stretched NHS system is correctly identifying patients whose symptoms may indicate cancer and urgently referring them.
“What we do is go into GP practices and talk with them about prevention and earlier diagnosis of cancer, their data and ideas for improvements. And we follow up with training, advice and resources.
“Out of these meetings, came the idea for the speed-dating – both sides wanted to improve communication between primary and secondary care. That seemed to be best achieved by meeting each other face to face to talk and find out how they could work better together.”
Sarah said the ‘dating’ gave GPs the chance to ask specific questions about the pathway and patient cases. And for the consultants, it was an opportunity to describe the challenges they face and talk to the GPs about the pathways, diagnostics and treatment. They can also give guidance on best practice, like key information to include on referral forms.
“The sessions are held in the evenings so they don’t affect patient care,” said Sarah. “At the last one, we had 17 GPs and nine consultants and the feedback from both sides was very positive, with people requesting further sessions.”
The Cancer Research UK Facilitators work with the health service, including 5,700 GP practices across the UK, to drive improvements in the early diagnosis and prevention of cancer.
Mr Ashok Subramanian, consultant general surgeon at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “The speed-dating was a novel but really worthwhile event. It gave the consultants and the GPs the chance to do what we very rarely have time for – to meet face to face and talk about best practice in our different specialities. It was an opportunity to discuss and understand the challenges and concerns on both sides.
“I think we all took away learnings from the event and would be keen to do more in the future.”
Dr Alex Dale, GP Tutor for High Weald Lewes & Havens CCG/Hastings & Rother CCG, said: “The speed-dating has allowed me to engage with secondary care colleagues I wouldn’t normally get to meet. This has been invaluable in improving communication with colleagues and developing relationships with clinicians.
“Good relationships between primary and secondary care are integral to patient care, but also to local workforce recruitment and retention.”
More than 90 per cent of the practices visited by the Facilitators, say they found the visits very useful, plan to take action to improve their practice and would recommend them to others.
The Facilitators’ work with CCGs and health boards also helps shape local and regional strategic planning. One planner said: “The programme helps make those big, strategic ambitions into actual workable size pieces, operational actions that we can add together to make a difference to patients.”
The Facilitators’ work is driving great results. More people are taking part in bowel screening, GP practices are putting in place ways of tracking people with concerning symptoms and there is greater confidence among GPs to make referrals for suspected cancer.
For more information about Cancer Research UK, visit cruk.org.