The Herald on Sunday

‘New cancer centres could increase rural patient journey times’

- By Caroline Wilson

NEW fast-track cancer diagnosis centres planned for every area of Scotland could lead to lengthier journeys for patients in rural areas, a former head surgeon has warned.

The new centres will provide GPs with an alternativ­e route to urgently refer patients who have non-specific but concerning symptoms – such as weight loss, fatigue, pain and nausea – or where the doctor’s instinct is cancer. Cancer experts say the difficulty in correctly identifyin­g the required referral pathway can increase the time taken to diagnose and treat these patients, resulting in poorer outcomes and an inadequate patient experience.

The Scottish Government has faced criticism over delays to the launch of the centres, which are being incorporat­ed into existing infrastruc­ture, but has now pledged to pilot three with a £3 million investment, to be followed by full rollout to every health board area.

The first are being launched in Ayrshire & Arran, Dumfries & Galloway and Fife, and aim to develop the “optimal” referral pathway for patients.

David Sedgwick, pictured above, who retired from his surgical post at the Belford hospital in Fort William seven years ago, said he had written to constituen­cy MSP Kate Forbes to raise his concerns about the new approach. He said it could mean elderly patients in the

Lochaber area face travelling to Inverness for investigat­ive tests that could be carried out at the Belford hospital.

He said: “I know that people have been trying to hold the Government’s feet to the fire over this and that they haven’t done anything about it.

“But we are not thinking that here. Inverness might be because they might want to build Raigmore even bigger.

“From Lochaber’s point of view, we are not looking for a bricks-and-mortar cancer centre in Inverness because there is no point sending every patient with symptoms, who potentiall­y has cancer, to Inverness. “What we need to have is appropriat­e services in Fort William, Oban and Wick to be able to do investigat­ive tests such as endoscopie­s and do an assessment of patients so that they are not all having to travel to Inverness.” Mr Sedgwick said the Belford had capacity to carry out a range of diagnostic tests including endoscopy and colonoscop­y procedures as well as CT scans, X-rays and ultrasound scans.

A Scottish Government spokeswoma­n said: “The centres will provide GPs with an alternativ­e route to urgently refer patients who have non-specific symptoms suspicious of cancer, such as weight loss, fatigue, pain and nausea, or where the doctor’s instinct is that cancer may be involved.”

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