LONGER GP appointments could play a key role in the prevention and early detection of cancer, according to the organisation representing family doctors.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said 10 minute consultations are often "unfit for purpose".

The RCGP was one of a number of organisations giving evidence to Holyrood's Health Committee on the flagship Detect Cancer Early programme which targets Scotland's most common cancers including bowel.

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It came as the latest figures show the 60 per cent bowel screening target has been missed again, with the most deprived Scots least likely to take part.

Euan Paterson, executive officer at the RCGP in Scotland, said GPs needed to spend more time with patients, particularly those from more deprived areas, to build trust in order to both encourage preventative behaviour and detect the early signs of cancer.

The former GP said: "Me suggesting, pushing, encouraging, coercing somebody to go some place - that might have been a screening appointment, it might have been an active referral - that sort of relationship at the start of all of this is hugely beneficial, and that takes time."

He said a Scandinavian study had estimated "it would take about 10 or 11 consultations between the same two individuals in primary care for a trusting relationship to develop".

In its written submission to the committee, the RCGP said that standard 10 minute GP consultations are "unfit for purpose in many cases".

It stated: "Of course, in order to be able to effectively diagnose cancer at the earliest stage, patients must be able to access their GP service and GPs must be able to spend appropriate time with their patients to diagnose and support them.

"In terms of public health campaigns, more could be done to focus on minimising risk factors for cancer, rather than raising awareness of possible symptoms of the disease."

New statistics show that only 56 per cent of all 50 to 74-year-olds sent the home screening tests for bowel cancer between May 2015 and May 2017 returned them. This varied from 65.5 per cent of people in the most affluent communities to just 42.9 per cent of people in the most deprived parts of Scotland.

Janice Preston, Macmillan's head in Scotland, said: "It's clear a new approach to early detection is needed. Health services and campaigns consistently struggle to engage people from deprived areas."

The latest figures pre-date the rollout in November 2017 of a simpler bowel screening kit which is expected to boost uptake and improve cancer detection. Scotland is the first part of the UK to introduce the new test.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "The earlier cancer is diagnosed the easier it is to treat, which is why our Detect Cancer Early programme, £41 million investment and new and easier bowel screening test are so important in encouraging more people to get checked.

"We are also investing £5 million from the Cancer Strategy in our screening programmes, including bowel screening, to encourage all those who are eligible to take up their invitation particularly in hard to reach groups and our most deprived communities where uptake is lowest."