FAMILY doctors are being made to submit photos when referring patients to a skin cancer specialist.
Health chiefs say too many people sent to consultants are found not to have cancer, causing delays for those with the disease.
Getty – Contributor Family doctors are being made to submit photos of suspicious growths when referring patients to a skin cancer specialist
GPs must now take three photos of the skin with their mobile phone and another with an imaging device called a dermatoscope.
A consultant will then review the pictures and decide whether to offer an urgent or routine appointment or direct patients elsewhere.
Medics warn it could lead to cases of deadly skin cancer being missed.
The policy, exposed by GP magazine Pulse, has been adopted by Clinical Commissioning Groups in North East England.
The health bodies decide how to spend NHS money locally.POTENTIAL TO ‘DELAY’ TREATMENT OF KILLER CANCERS
They say it is a response to receiving 150 referrals for urgent dermatology outpatient appointments every week, most of whom do not have cancer.
One doctor said: “I have concerns that it may potentially delay skin cancer diagnoses by making the referral process unnecessarily bureaucratic.
“For instance, we have been told that if a photo is not uploaded within 24 hours of a referral having been made then it may well be rejected.”
CCGs affected include NHS North Durham, NHS Durham Dales, NHS Easington and Sedgefield, and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.
MOBILE PHONE PHOTOS ‘RARELY GOOD ENOUGH’
Dr George Rae, a GP in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, said mobile phone photos are rarely clear enough to draw definite conclusions.
But he added: “If the photograph is absolutely succinct and able to see definitively what the actual lesion is, this is not at all a bad idea.
“It will expedite things. It will make it such that patients will get quicker reassurance of the way forward.”
A spokesperson for the CCGs said: “Digital technology is used increasingly across the NHS and evidence indicates it improves patient experience.
“Our priority is to ensure patients receive the care they need in the most appropriate place and as soon as possible.”
GPs can push for an appointment even if a consultant initially thinks it is not necessary.
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Gillian Nuttall, from skin cancer charity Melanoma UK, said: “As a patient organisationwho encourages early detection, this is disappointing to say the least.
“We need to stop treating melanoma as ‘just skin cancer’ and remember that in the UK seven people die of melanoma each day.
“Patients deserve better.”
Alamy A consultant will then review the pictures and decide whether to offer an urgent or routine appointment or direct patients elsewhere