NHS cancer expert releases initial findings on UK screening programmes

Wednesday 29 May 2019

NHS England (NHSE) and care providers must urgently improve the IT systems involved in national screening programmes and roll out multimedia interventions to improve screening uptake, according to a new report.

Last year, Professor Sir Mike Richards was tasked by NHSE with conducting an independent review of the national breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening programmes in England. Over the past six months, Prof Richards has interviewed hundreds of relevant stakeholders – including The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) – to understand how the programmes operate and the challenges faced by providers.  

His interim report, released last week, outlines the governance complexities of the programmes, along with the need for urgent IT improvement and national rollout of innovative interventions to boost uptake. The final report will make specific recommendations for improving governance and diagnostic capacity and is expected in summer 2019.

Dr Caroline Rubin is RCR Vice President for Clinical Radiology and has spent her career working in the breast screening programme. Along with RCR colleagues, she engaged with Prof Richards during his fact-finding.

Dr Rubin said:   

“The interim report is an accessible, no-nonsense outline of the realities and challenges of running national screening programmes – from confused high-level accountability, to slow service rollout and the continued use of IT systems that are ‘no longer fit for purpose.

“In addition to frustrating clinicians and making it difficult to ensure a safe service, the report makes the excellent point that this poor IT could also hamper the vital introduction of more targeted, risk-based screening. 

“We appreciate Sir Mike’s reference to the aging workforce challenges and potential opportunities linked to using artificial intelligence in mammography reading in breast screening. We very much look forward to his expanding on diagnostic capacity issues and potential staffing solutions, and will be interested to see how additional screening programmes – such as NHSE’s new targeted lung screening pilots – are considered during the next stage of the review.”