A review of NHS screening programmes has called for a major overhaul of the service’s current system, warning that repeated delays and errors are currently costing lives.
Former cancer tsar Sir Mike Richards was commissioned to make recommendations on overhauling national screening programmes as part of a new NHS drive for earlier diagnosis and improved cancer survival.
The report recommends that women are able to choose appointments for mammograms and smear tests at doctor’s surgeries and health centres close to their work, rather than with a general practitioner near their home, so that they don’t need to take time off for these crucial examinations.
Local screening services should also offer extra evening and weekend appointments for breast, cervical and other cancer checks, the report says.
In total, £200m of extra NHS diagnostics investment announced by the UK government will be used to upgrade and replace older mammography and diagnostic imaging equipment, with initial allocations now being made to NHS providers with equipment that most needs replacing.
Richards said: “People live increasingly busy lives and we need to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to attend these important appointments.”
NHS England is currently preparing to roll out lung health checks using truck-mounted imaging scanners in supermarket car parks and other public spaces.
The report also called for more to be done to drive appointment uptake through social media and text reminders.
GP practices in South West London that have been following up with people who did not attend bowel screenings with phone calls and reminder letters have seen a 12% increase in attendance.
In Stoke-on-Trent, posting about screenings on Facebook community groups has led to a 13% increase in first-time attendances for breast screening over the past four years.
However, the report flagged that the NHS’s aging IT systems make it difficult to adequately record and access patients’ mobile phone numbers in some areas. Alongside this, while many modern IT systems should enable patients to make and change their own appointments and access information about past and future screenings, none of these functions are currently available through the NHS.
Outdated IT systems were also found to disproportionately affect trans people, with no way to record whether or not a patient is transgender or which medical steps they have taken in their transition.
The report said: “Transmen may have a cervix and thus be at risk of cervical cancer. However, their gender may be recorded as male and thus they would not be routinely called for cervical screening. Transwomen are at an increased risk of breast cancer compared to cisgender men if using hormones, but are only invited for screening if registered as female.”