Online cancer education for healthcare professionals

An online cancer education programme for all healthcare professionals targeting primary and community care professionals was developed. The programme was funded as a project of the Greater Manchester Cancer Vanguard Programme, relying on support from a network of cancer education partners in Greater Manchester and eastern Cheshire.

In 2017, the programme was piloted with primary care users in Greater Manchester and East Cheshire. Courses were also piloted with University College London Hospitals (UCLH) Cancer Collaborative, a London Cancer Vanguard partner. Following a successful pilot, the programme was rolled out across Greater Manchester and the north of England. After receiving funding from Health Education England, the programme was made freely available to all healthcare professionals across England on 1 August 2019. The programme now has 20 courses available, with a further 9 in development.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the online cancer education programme produced supportive and informative content on the topic of cancer and the impact of COVID-19. In direct response to increased educational needs brought about by the pandemic, a webinar series was piloted from August 2020. The webinars provide an opportunity for healthcare professionals to debate decisions, changes, news and policies, and to hear from and ask questions of national experts. Further funding from Health Education England was secured in November 2020 enabling the programme to develop and produce monthly webinars.

Situation

The NHS Long Term Plan sets out to diagnose 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2 by 2028.

One in every two people in this country will be told they have cancer at some point in their lives.

The NHS Long Term Plan aims to save thousands more lives each year by dramatically improving how we diagnose and treat cancer. Their ambition is that by 2028, an extra 55,000 people each year will survive for 5 years or more following their cancer diagnosis.

Each year, more than 300 million consultations take place in general practice:

  • about 1 in every 850 will be a new cancer patient presenting with symptoms
  • many cancer symptoms mimic other diseases more frequently seen by primary care clinicians, which means decision-making about urgent referral is more difficult

Aspiration

  • Create a programme to support healthcare professionals, mainly those in primary and community care, with the recognition of cancer symptoms
  • Increase confidence in knowing when and when not to refer a patient into secondary care, ensuring that effective and timely referrals for diagnostic testing are made
  • Improve the quality of suspected cancer referrals, thereby reducing delays in the system
  • Improve communication to enhance patient experience and support patients and their families at each stage of their cancer journey
  • Meet the educational objectives in the National Cancer Plan and respond to the revised NICE guidance NG12 for suspected cancer: recognition and referral

Solution and impact

GatewayC is an online cancer education programme for all healthcare professionals, and mainly those working in primary and community care. Based at The Christie Hospital in Manchester, the GatewayC Team is led by programme lead Dr Cathy Heaven and 2 GP leads, Dr Sarah Taylor and Dr Rebecca Leon. The GatewayC team comprises expertise in programme management, education and webinar development, marketing and engagement.

The education provided by GatewayC offers virtual opportunities to engage with the healthcare workforce. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been particularly important as it enables users to achieve their required continuing professional development (CPD) and revalidation when face-to-face training is unavailable, and also to keep them abreast of key issues faced by healthcare professionals.

The courses

The courses focus on clinical decision-making by using interactive video consultations depicting real difficulties, dilemmas and mistakes. They incorporate expert clinical knowledge from professionals in both primary and secondary care, key messages from charity partners, and real-life patient stories.

When GatewayC was piloted in Greater Manchester and London, it proved its relevance, usefulness and applicability to GPs, GP trainees and practice nurses. Objective evidence showed changes in confidence and knowledge of NICE NG12 guidance:

  • 94% of GP users reported it had helped with future referrals
  • 85% reported improved recognition of symptoms which merited suspected cancer referral
  • 85% felt more confident in knowing when to refer

All 20 courses are Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) accredited and are reviewed regularly to ensure that their content remains clinically accurate and up-to-date. GatewayC is in the process of seeking NICE endorsement for their early diagnosis courses.

The webinars

The webinar series aims to support virtual cancer consultations and the effective triaging of patients to ensure that the right people are referred to secondary care. Similar to the courses, there is also a focus on clinical decision-making with regards to suspected cancer referrals.

The webinars provide a platform for healthcare professionals, especially those in primary and community care, to engage with key issues of the day and generate debate regarding NHS recovery and clinical decision-making. With primary care being a key group in the recovery of cancer services after the pandemic, there has been an increasing demand to expand the content of the webinars and link with national charities and cancer alliances to support this sector of the workforce.

Functionality

GatewayC is hosted on a Moodle platform enabling the courses to be accessed and the training delivered wholly online. The recent addition of the ‘GatewayC Live’ webinar series is also held on this platform.

Most courses are structured around a filmed consultation, played out by actors, that follows a patient’s appointment(s) in primary care prior to their diagnosis. They are supplemented by interviews with specialists, including national leading oncologists. Courses are regularly reviewed and updated to reflect new clinical guidance, with new modules in development for other cancers.

The webinar series produces monthly webinars that focus on key issues, allowing debates around struggles faced in delivering the best cancer care. The webinar series aims to support virtual cancer consultations and the effective triaging of patients to ensure that the right people are referred to secondary care. The webinars can be viewed live, or the recording and the additional resources can be accessed later on the platform.

By completing a course or watching a webinar, users can gain CPD credits. There are more than 50 hours of CPD available on the platform.

Capabilities

  • Provide online access to quality courses and webinars to improve knowledge of cancer symptoms (all courses follow NICE NG12 guidance)
  • Support virtual cancer consultations and the effective triage of patients

Scope

All education has been delivered through a dedicated website (www.gatewayc.org.uk) enabling users to work through a course or watch a webinar when they have capacity.

The programme contains a number of courses targeted at supporting clinical decision-making and changing patient outcomes. Course topics cover:

  • early detection of cancer which are mainly pathway-specific
  • supporting those living with a diagnosis of cancer, or during palliative and end-of-life care
  • some region-specific courses

The courses have been developed with the busy working schedules of healthcare professionals in mind, so that users can ‘dip in and dip out’ of their courses when their timetable allows. Users watch filmed patient scenarios and conversations between GatewayC GP leads and different specialists to engage with clinical decision-making.

Key learning points

  • By using a variety of multimedia activities, online education can be delivered in an interactive and engaging way
  • For clinical staff, the preferred duration of online courses is up to 1 hour in length
  • Educational webinars held at lunchtimes generally receive the best uptake for healthcare professionals

Key figures/quotes

“The modules are skilfully crafted and contain many gems of wisdom which the participants can elicit at their own pace, in their own time, for free. GatewayC is highly recommended for primary care practitioners who are committed to improving care to the highest standard for their patients with cancer.”
Dr Kwan, GP clinical lead, South East London Cancer Alliance GP

“GatewayC is an excellent resource for patient-facing primary care staff to address the ‘early diagnosis of cancer’ agenda. It is widely available, freely accessible, and provides a variety of useful, relevant, NICE-adherent, and succinct courses for professionals. They have the added bonus for GPs of being RCGP accredited, as well as endorsed by respected charities.”
Dr Gissing, Healthy Communities project manager, West Yorkshire & Harrogate Cancer Alliance

“Primary care teams are so important in both the early diagnosis of cancer and in providing personalised care for those living with cancer. GatewayC is a fantastic resource providing primary care professionals with a wealth of educational resources to help them keep themselves up to date and provide the best for their patients.”
Dr Anthony Cunliffe, joint national lead Macmillan GP adviser and joint clinical chair, South East London Cancer Alliance

Find out more

Find out more about GatewayC

GatewayC courses

GatewayC free webinars

Key contact

Alice Bowden, marketing and engagement lead

alice.bowden2@nhs.net

Emma Jones, programme support officer

emma.jones4@nhs.net