2nd Jan 2018

Why GPs are vital in early detection

It has long been a piece of good advice to parents and the public in general to treat medical books and online medical resources with a large pinch of salt to avoid developing hypochondria with every little symptom suddenly seeming to be a sign of a potentially serious illness.


Now the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) is recommending that patients search online for information about their illness before contacting their local surgery to see a doctor. However they stipulate that only trusted, reputable websites such as NHS Choices (https://www.nhs.uk/pages/home.aspx) should be used.

The RCGP’s new mantra is “three before GP” – patients should try self-care, seek help from recognised online sources and ask their pharmacist before considering booking an appointment at their surgery in order to ease pressure on GP waiting rooms, particularly during the busy winter period.

While I appreciate the concern of GPs, struggling to cope with rising demand against a background of funding pressures, I would not be doing my job if I did not put the case for early diagnosis of serious illnesses such as cancer. 


As a cancer specialist, my role is not only to treat patients but also to undertake research to help improve cancer care, treatments, prevention and detection. The first line in detection remains of course the GP, so while I agree that there are a few steps that patients can take before going to the doctors, there is no substitute for getting a qualified medical opinion for a troubling issue.

And don’t forget to take some of the information you might read on medical websites via “Dr Google” with a healthy degree of scepticism – your GP remains the best person to consult if symptoms persist and like any medical professional they will always be happy to help. It remains the case that it is far better to get checked out than adopt a stiff upper lip attitude and ignore warning signs.

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