FAMILY doctors in Scotland are to receive extra funding in an effort to increase the uptake for a key cancer screening programme, in efforts to save more lives.
A letter sent to NHS boards this week reveals the Scottish Government has released cash – £800,000 a year for two years – so GP practices can identify ways to reduce the number of their patients who choose not to be screened for bowel cancer.
But last night the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland said it was unclear how many practices would take part due to uncertainty about the amount of money GP surgeries would need to fund staff to take part.
The Scottish Bowel Cancer Screening Programme takes the form of a testing kit which is sent in the post, so patients do not normally need to see a doctor to take part.
The programme invites all men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 who are registered with a GP to complete the at-home test. It is thought that around 750 lives have been saved since the screening programme was introduced in Scotland in 2007.
But officials want to increase uptake and suggest practices could become more proactive, calling patients and asking them to come in to talk to a nurse about screening or displaying posters to raise awareness.
Practices will also be encouraged to develop an action plan to target groups which may be less likely to take up screening – patients with learning disabilities and those from deprived communities – as part of efforts to tackle health inequalities.
To receive the maximum amount of extra funding, practices would have to achieve at least a 4.1 per cent drop in patients declining to return the screening.
But the letter said practices could still receive a full payment even if they did not achieve the results, if they could provide “good written evidence” of why they were unable to make the desired improvements.
However, BMA Scotland expressed concerns about how much time practices would be able to devote to the programme with the funding being made available.
Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GPs committee, said: “GPs involvement in this scheme to try to increase uptake of screening is voluntary, and I am not sure how many will take part – not because this is not a worthwhile aim, but simply because it will be difficult for practices to know how much of their staff time the scheme will fund to do this.
“GPs will also not know which of their patients have been sent the kit or returned it.”