Tania Farrow is a pharmacist and chief officer at Suffolk LPC. She used her bowel cancer pharmacy training through Talk Cancer with Cancer Research UK to help a patient at the East of England Co-op Pharmacy in Stowmarket seek appropriate treatment and an early diagnosis. As told to Emma Rosser


‘I've been working as a community pharmacist for 30 years. Throughout your career, you do have those conversations with patients around changes in bowel habit and making sure they don't just ignore them. The training I had helped me to know the best way of speaking to the patient so that you got your message across without alarming them.


‘The Talk Cancer training was run by two cancer nurses. They’re teaching people who are likely to have frontline conversations with patients, so that they’re the ones that are highlighting the benefits of early diagnosis and dealing with any red flag symptoms. A lot of it was about confidence: how do you ask those questions and not feel that you are being intrusive? It was quite empowering.


‘This patient wasn't one of our regulars, she'd just come in because she was concerned that she'd had a change in bowel habits. She'd kept ignoring it, but she really felt now that she needed to ask somebody and she didn't want to bother the doctor.


‘When patients come to you and they’re identifying symptoms, ask is if it’s normal for them. If it’s not normal for you, it’s not normal. If there’s been a change for the patient and they are concerned about it then there’s something that needs investigation.


‘In the training, there was a lot of information about the National Bowel Screening programme, which despite being a practising pharmacist for that time, I wasn’t aware of. It goes directly to the patient, it doesn’t come through pharmacy. You don’t know what some of those screening programmes are until you get that letter through the post.


‘Because she was in the age group that should have done it [aged between 60 and 74 years], I checked whether she’d had that opportunity. She said she had received a kit through the post. They ask you to take a stool sample and send it back, and she didn't want to do it – she didn't feel confident and she was a bit worried. It was impersonal, she would be sending it off and she didn't know what would happen next.


‘I explained to her the purpose of it, the fact that most the samples are clear and even if you are getting symptoms, it might be absolutely nothing. But if there was anything there the sooner that it was picked up, the better. I directed her to the GP and said they'd be able to do a test and indicate whether there are any problems.


‘Pharmacy is being seen as a way of reducing workload from general practice. In this current climate where you don’t want to be referring people in for everything, there is an anxiety about when to refer. What are the red flags? Quite frequently it’s difficult to know.


‘I didn't see her until several months later when I was in the same pharmacy and she caught my eye and asked to have a quick word. I took her into the consulting room and she thanked me for the information. She said she did go to the GP, she had various tests and it did end up that she had very early bowel cancer.


'The doctor had said well done for going in so early because they picked it up early and he deemed her treatment to have a good success rate. She was really grateful that we'd had the conversation, she'd got the right information and she'd been able to influence it positively.


‘Early diagnosis of cancer is an sustainability and transformation partnership (STP) priority and what better place to put those skills than into community pharmacy where you’ve got patients interacting with people that will probably never go to the GP without being directed to do so?'