Primary health care

The primary health care sector is a focus of the NSW Cancer Plan. 

Primary health care is provided by:

The role of primary health care providers

Primary health care providers play an essential role in helping patients access timely, appropriate care. They provide comprehensive ongoing care and connect the community with the rest of the health care sector (such as specialist care).

85% of cancers are diagnosed following symptomatic presentation to a primary care provider.1

Primary health care providers connect the community with the rest of the health care sector (e.g. hospitals). 

For cancer, the care occurs across a continuum, with primary care involvement across each phase.

Dr Charlotte Hespe provides an overview of the key role of primary health care providers in delivering person-centred care across the cancer continuum.


Primary care providers offer information, support and monitoring to patients, with the aim of preventing cancers. This involves:

  • providing advice on how to reduce cancer risk and adopt healthy lifestyle behaviours
  • directing people to support services, such as the NSW Quitline
  • monitoring patients with precancerous conditions and those at high-risk of cancer.

Screening and early detection

Primary care providers support people to participate in the cervical, breast and bowel national cancer screening programs. Participation in these programs is the single most important factor in achieving reduction in cancer-related illness and mortality. 

The NSW Primary Care Strategy for the Bowel, Breast and Cervical Screening Programs provides a roadmap for the Cancer Institute NSW on working with the primary health care sector to increase cancer screening rates.

To support informed decision making about screening, a number of resources have been developed to support primary health care providers, including:

Diagnosis and treatment

Primary care providers also play an important role in:

  • recognising diverse cancer symptoms
  • referring patients to specialists who are part of a multidisciplinary cancer care team
  • coordinating cancer care for specific population groups, especially culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal communities
  • improving the electronic collection of patient information
  • monitoring the effectiveness of the health care system.

A range of resources has been developed to support primary care clinicians’ timely access to appropriate services and information for their patients. This includes:

  • Canrefer – an online directory to refer to specialists who are active members of a multidisciplinary cancer care team. It is recommended that a GP refers any appropriate patients to a specialist centre.
  • eviQ  – provides evidence-based, consensus driven cancer treatment protocols and information for use by primary care teams and their patients at the point of care.

For more information, see:

What we are achieving in primary health care

We continue to work with the primary care sector, recognising its important role in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care of people with cancer.

Our work with primary care also occurs in some of the following ways:

Developing and supporting primary care partnerships

A NSW Primary Care Cancer Framework will support the role of primary care across the seven touchpoints of cancer. It will highlight how the primary care sector can promote integrated care and improve patient outcomes.

Our Primary Health Care Advisory Group provides advice on key initiatives which relate to the primary care sector, including the development of the NSW Primary Care Cancer Framework

We have established a Cancer Screening Network with all NSW primary health networks. The purpose of the network is to promote partnerships and communication with primary health care providers. Network goals include:

  • gaining support from clinical leaders in primary care for national cancer screening programs
  • facilitating the uptake of evidence-based guidelines for cancer screening in primary care
  • working to address barriers and enablers to participation in national cancer screening programs
  • facilitating collaboration between BreastScreen NSW services and primary health networks. 

Building a quality improvement focus

We have worked with primary care providers and key specialist stakeholders to develop a Cancer Screening and Primary Care Quality Improvement Toolkit. Primary health networks will use the toolkit to support local general practices to understand and promote the national cancer screening programs and undertake quality improvement activities to increase participation. 

The Institute will continue to build upon the toolkit to include additional relevant modules that support quality improvement initiatives for cancer control activities in primary care.

cover of the statewide cancer control report

The Reporting for Better Cancer Outcomes program informs our work with primary health networks to support local quality improvement

Annual meetings are held with primary health networks to review regional cancer control activities and explore quality improvement opportunities.

Workforce capacity is a priority and addressed by providing support to GPs and practice nurses to undertake training and accreditation in well women's screening.

For more information on the Institute’s primary care initiatives, please email 

NSW Cancer Plan initiatives for primary health care

Across each goal of the NSW Cancer Plan, specific initiatives have been developed with a focus on primary health care, including:

  • strategies that focus on high-risk populations, including Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse communities
  • patient information to support person-centred care and informed decision making
  • Canrefer to guide primary care providers to give appropriate referrals
  • the development of cancer care pathways with, and for, primary care providers.

Progress of the NSW Cancer Plan is regularly monitored and evaluated. Find out more information using our NSW Cancer Plan Performance Index.