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NHS cancer screening programmes set for major review

Review will be part of NHS Long-Term Plan

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 16 November 2018

All national cancer screening programmes in England are to be reviewed as part of what is described as a “major overhaul” of screening, it has been announced.

NHS England said yesterday that former cancer tsar Professor Sir Mike Richards will lead the overhaul of national cancer screening programmes as part of a renewed drive to improve care and save lives.

The announcement was made a day after it emerged that around 43,200 women in England had not received information regarding cervical cancer screening after a system error earlier this year by Capita, the firm that supports the screening programme on behalf of NHS England. This meant that 4,508 results letters were delayed.

There were also problems earlier this year when it was confirmed that 174,000 women had not been invited for breast cancer screening, after mistakes lasting years had been missed.

In the new announcement, NHS England said the NHS had been world leading by introducing national cancer screening programmes which have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

However, the desire to increase early detection of cancers when they were easier to treat was at the heart of the NHS’s imminent Long-Term Plan to upgrade services and make sure patients benefitted from new technologies and treatments.

Sir Mike, who was the NHS’s first cancer director and is the former Care Quality Commission chief inspector of hospitals, will lead a review team to assess current screening programmes and recommend how they should be organised, developed and improved.

The review will look at:

  • how latest innovations can be utilised, including potential use of artificial intelligence
  • integrating research
  • encouraging more eligible people to be screened
  • learning from recent issues around breast and cervical screening.
The review, which is expected to report back next summer, will assess the strengths and weakness of the current screening programmes for cervical, breast and bowel cancer and make recommendations on a number of areas including:
  • how screening policy should be modified in the future, including horizon scanning, reviews of effectiveness and advice from clinical experts
  • how best to integrate screening programmes with other relevant initiatives to promote early diagnosis of cancer as part of a wider approach to prevention and early intervention
  • introducing new screening technologies and update IT
  • how screening programmes should be commissioned, delivered and quality assured in the future
  • how to ensure the necessary workforce is trained to deliver the programmes
  • how best to ensure ongoing research and evaluation are integrated into screening.
The review will advise NHS England and Public Health England on the best operational delivery model for current screening programmes, including possible changes to currently outsourced provision.

Sir Mike said: “There is no doubt that the screening programmes in England save thousands of lives every year, however, as part of implementing NHS’s Long-Term Plan, we want to make certain they are as effective as possible.

“This review provides the opportunity to look at recent advances in technology and innovative approaches to selecting people for screening, ensuring the NHS screening programme can go from strength to strength and save more lives.”

Steve Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “Screening is a vital and effective tool in our fight against cancer. However, recent issues with breast and cervical cancer screening have shown that we need to look closely at these existing programmes.

“Sir Mike has wealth of experience in healthcare and is ideally placed to lead this independent review.”

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