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Social media could help raise breast screening take-up

First-time attendances rose by 13% in Stoke-on-Trent after project through Facebook groups

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

First-time attendances for breast screening rose by 13% over four years following an NHS campaign through local Facebook community groups in Stoke-on-Trent, NHS Digital has reported. NHS England said the success of the project showed that digital channels can be used to answer patients’ concerns and provide them with locally relevant advice.

In response to a 10-year decline in the UK in attendances for breast screening by first-timers – and recognising that the target cohort for breast screening is women aged 50-70 years, while Facebook’s growing demographic is women over 55 – the pathfinder project tested the value of operating a Breast Cancer Screening Facebook page run by a health improvement practitioner (HIP).

The Facebook page for the North Midlands Breast Screening Service was aimed at making communication easier for women who need more information about breast screening, by providing information in two ways: the screening unit sent out open communications about the service, and the managing HIP responded to specific queries, made either in response to screening posts or in private messages to the screening service. The page also included video content. These videos showed the screening room in which screening takes place, and introduced the mammographers; had testimonials recorded with patients, explaining the impact that screening had had on them; and included information to help women understand breast screening.

The service promoted its Facebook page through local community groups that they knew were regularly visited by their target group of women aged over 50, and encouraged peer-to-peer sharing of content to increase the reach of its health messages.

It also included a function for personalised messaging, which allowed the screening service to follow up an open communication with personalised health messaging – and enabled women who are historically excluded from mainstream health care to communicate safely and with a degree of anonymity.

The evaluation* of the project showed that the pathfinder increased first-time appointments across seven screening sites in Stoke-on-Trent. In contrast to national decline in attendance, the North Midlands Breast Screening Service improved attendance by an average of 12.9% from 2014 to 2018. Nevertheless, in the financial year 2017-18, 7,938 women in Stoke-on-Trent either didn’t attend their breast screening appointment or opted out of going – meaning that about 65 cases of potential breast cancer were not detected.

Gina Newman, HIP at the service, said: “This is a fantastic idea and the community aspect of the group is so powerful that we now have 1,138 followers.

“We have seen an increase in the number of ladies who have booked and attended their appointments, who might not have done otherwise. It’s great to see the members supporting one another through their own journeys and sharing the page further with their family and friends.”

Chief digital officer at NHS England, Juliet Bauer, commented: “The Stoke project is an example of how digital channels can be used to communicate with patients, providing local advice and answer key concerns.

“This work is part of the NHS’s wider commitment to digitally transform the way we work with all of our patients, improving the information we provide and empowering the public to take charge of their own health and care.”


*Using Facebook to improve at screening appointments: Evaluation Oct 2017- Oct 2018. Prepared by the Good Things Foundation, October 2018.

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