During a patient’s appointment, GPs will now be able to take images when they see something unusual or new on the skin, and send them directly to the hospital where they can be reviewed by a specialist.
This new service will help to sift out the skin conditions that are clearly of no concern, providing faster reassurance to patients with harmless conditions, without the need for a trip to hospital. It will also give those with a potentially more serious condition access to treatment sooner.
Currently in Leeds up to 31% of all suspected skin cancer referrals are discharged back to primary care with no clinical intervention following an initial consultation.
It will also free up clinic space to enable health care professionals to tackle the spiralling skin cancer epidemic which predicts the number of hospital referrals in Leeds will increase by 41% by 2022.
The project is part of the Leeds Cancer Programme which sees Macmillan Cancer Support, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and NHS Leeds CCG working together to transform cancer services across the city. It forms part of the Early Diagnosis workstream to make more cancers curable by increasing the numbers diagnosed at an early stage, promoting greater awareness of signs and symptoms and increasing the uptake of screening.
National cancer transformation funding for the project – a total of £367,000 – was secured in 2017/2018 by the West Yorkshire and Harrogate (WYH) Cancer Alliance, one of 19 Alliances around the country established to drive forward the improvements in cancer care and treatment described in the national cancer plan, ‘Achieving World Class Outcomes – A Strategy for England 2015-2020’.
Helen Ryan, Macmillan Project Lead (Early Diagnosis) at NHS Leeds, pictured left, has helped to set up the new service. She said: “With the volume of skin cancer referrals increasing it’s more important than ever that we work together to improve services and deliver the best care for patients. The Tele-Dermatology Service will completely transform the way we deal with suspected skin cancer in Leeds, creating a smoother, more effective process for both the patient and healthcare professionals. Patients who previously had to wait 2 weeks for an appointment will now have their diagnosis within 48 hours, helping to reduce anxiety, limit unnecessary hospital visits and most importantly provide faster access to treatment.”
The new service will support people like Debra Wood, 51, from Leeds. Debra, pictured below right with her daughters and grandson, was diagnosed with skin cancer in August last year and suffered with anxiety while waiting for her diagnosis.
“I went to the GP with a mole that didn’t look quite right. Straight away, I could tell from the look on his face that it was bad, so I thought it was probably skin cancer, but then had to wait 2 more weeks to go to the hospital and have it confirmed. I suffer from anxiety anyway, so there was all sorts going through my mind, it wasn’t a very nice feeling, not really knowing what would happen.
Debra had to rely on her family to keep her calm and lift her spirits. “The worst part is there’s no one to speak to between going to the GP and being referred and going to hospital. The waiting was really hard. To be able to get that diagnosis sooner would make a massive difference, as it would put your mind at rest. It’s so important, you just want to know straight away.”
Dr Walayat Hussain, Consultant Dermatologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We see thousands of patients in clinic who are referred for suspected skin cancer and they are given appointments to come to clinic within two weeks from their referral. We know that this is a really nerve-wracking time for patients as they wait for a diagnosis and we want to make this easier.
“By rolling out the teledermatology system across Leeds, we can review the image that GPs attach to each referral and make a decision if the patient needs to be seen in clinic or not. This means that we can reassure those patients who do not have skin cancer sooner, but also free up clinic time for those who need to be seen so that they can start treatment more quickly.”
Leeds GP and Associate Medical Director for NHS Leeds CCG Sarah Forbes said: “This new service will make a huge difference to patients, providing a faster diagnosis in their community without having to go to hospital. The new technology which has been installed in every GP practice across Leeds will enable doctors to take a series of images and transfer them directly to a specialist at the hospital within a matter of minutes. It’s a great example of primary and secondary care working together to improve the patient experience.”
Leeds is the first city in the region to implement this innovative service.
Professor Sean Duffy, who leads the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance, welcomed the launch of the project and the role it would play in helping to make more cancers curable.
He said: “The new tele-dermatology service is a great example of how digital technology is helping to speed up diagnosis, giving people with a cancer diagnosis faster access to the treatment they need, and providing earlier reassurance for those who do not.
“In time, we hope that similar services can be rolled-out more widely to ensure that all benefits have an equal opportunity to benefit.”
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Notes to Editors:
About the Leeds Cancer Programme
The Leeds Cancer Programme is a pioneering partnership which sees Macmillan Cancer Support, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and NHS Leeds CCG working together with city-wide partners and communities to transform cancer care for the people of Leeds.
There are four key workstreams within the Leeds Cancer Programme including: Prevention, Screening and Awareness; Early Diagnosis; Living With and Beyond Cancer; and High Quality Modern Service. Each workstream aims to deliver world-class cancer services, shaped by patients, carers and families.
About Macmillan Cancer Support
There are 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK. One in two people are likely to get cancer in their lifetimes. Cancer can affect everything, including a person’s body, relationships and finances.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides practical, emotional and personal support to people affected by cancer every year. The charity is there to support people during treatment, help with work and money worries, and listen when people need to talk about their feelings.
Macmillan receives no government funding and relies on generous donations from the public. People up and down the country show their support for Macmillan – from hosting or attending a World’s Biggest Coffee Morning to running a marathon or giving up alcohol – so the charity can help more and more people affected by cancer every year.
Life with cancer is still your life and Macmillan is there to help you live it.
About West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance
The Cancer Alliance bring together NHS organisations; local councils; charities; community and voluntary organisations and groups; patients and others affected by cancer in a partnership to design and deliver the transformation of services and care; to reduce variations in the availability of good care and treatment; to deliver ongoing improvements in the future; to pilot innovative approaches and to share best practice.