Doctors’ test kit slashes times for diagnosis of skin cancer

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PATIENT waiting times for skin cancer diagnosis in Sheffield are being drastically cut with the introduction of new technology being used by GPs.

Whereas patients with suspected skin cancer might have previously waited weeks for a diagnosis, now those same results are available within days because of a new kit being used by doctors within the Sheffield GP Consortium.

New weekly TeleDerm clinics being held at Dovercourt surgery in Skye Edge Avenue mean that patients with concerns about a mole or abnormal skin lesion do not have to wait for referral to hospital.

A specialist microscope uses light and magnification to produce a high-quality digital image of the underlying structures of the skin.

The digital images are then sent for analysis by skincare specialists who produce a report for the referring GP within days.

Dovercourt health care assistant Hilary Tomlinson said: “We’re currently seeing about six patients a week who would have otherwise have to travel to hospital rather than be treated in a primary care setting.

“Once the dermascope image has been taken it is uploaded onto a computer and sent off to a mole clinic in London who then generate a report – sometimes as quickly as the next working day – telling us whether the abnormality is cancerous or benign and therefore whether an instant referral to hospital is required.

“This means patients using dermascope are being seen and getting a diagnosis within a week.

“Ordinarily it may have taken weeks just for the referral and the hospital appointment.”

The scheme is being spearheaded by the Central Sheffield GP Consortium, a group of family doctors working in 27 practices across the city.

The consortium has the majority of inner city practices within Sheffield, which have high levels of deprivation, chronic disease and social need. GPs in the consortium say they are aiming to reduce health inequalities, one of the wider aims of the NHS across Yorkshire.

Patient Mabel Akers has praised the new TeleDerm technology for saving her time and “a lot of unnecessary worry”.

The 72-year-old grandmother from Skye Edge said: “I have had two cancerous moles removed before and so when I spotted one on my back that was in an awkward place I couldn’t really see, I decided to get it checked out.

“In the past, I have been referred to a dermatologist at the Hallamshire Hospital who had then organised for treatment to remove the moles.

“This time with the dermascope it was really, really quick – we’re talking days instead of weeks. They took the picture at Dovercourt Surgery and within two days I knew whether it was good or bad news.

“Thankfully, this one was fine but it saved me a lot of time and a lot of worry.”

The service is also expected to significantly reduce the number of patients with malignant melanoma initially misdiagnosed by GPs, as well as cutting the number of people with benign pigmented lesions or moles being referred unnecessarily to hospital.

Practice manager Michelle Wilde at Manor Top Surgery – part of the Sheffield GP Consortium – said: “The consortium aims to improve the quality and delivery of services and ensure, wherever possible, patients can be seen in the familiar surroundings of their local surgery in their community and dermascope is a shining example of this.

“This service is offering the patient choice, as well as peace of mind as they are diagnosed quickly, without the long wait and anxiety about results.”

The consortium is working in partnership with Scansol Ltd, which provides the Telederm service.

As a result of the early success of dermascope, the service is expected to be rolled out to other surgeries later this year, starting with Darnall.