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PHE stripped of its responsibility for the national cancer screening programme

NHS England will take over the National Cancer Screening programme, the government has confirmed.

The announcement comes following a report by former national cancer director and chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards. In which he called for NHS England to become the single body responsible for commissioning and delivery of screening services, which are currently run by both NHS England and Public Health England, to ‘end any existing confusion on who does what.’

Sir Richards was commissioned by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens and Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock to make recommendations on overhauling national screening programmes, as part of a new NHS drive for earlier diagnosis and improved cancer survival.

This comes after the Prime Minister pledged £200m of funding last month for new MRI machines, CT scanners and breast screening equipment as part of the NHS Long Term Plan aimed at saving an extra 55,000 lives each year by catching cancers early.

The move was confirmed today by Matt Hancock. He said:

‘We will use the findings from Professor Richards’ review, and other recent independent screening reviews, to inform the actions we need to take to improve our screening programmes and save even more lives.

‘I agree with Professor Richards that there should be a single source of national expert advice on both population-wide and targeted screening.

‘By extending and consolidating our arrangements for providing independent expert advice on all screening programmes, we will improve delivery and exploit the huge scientific progress that is being made to deliver faster and better access to the latest and best screening interventions.

‘NHS England will become the single body responsible for the delivery of screening services.’

Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive said:

‘Sir Mike’s sensible recommendations keep all that is good about NHS screening services, while rightly setting out a blueprint for more convenient access, upgraded technology, and progressively more tailored approaches to early diagnosis.

‘He is also right to point to the need to align the expert advice offered to the NHS, and streamline and simplify accountabilities for operational delivery.’

Sir Richards also called for screenings to be made more convenient in the hopes of reversing the decline in number of people being tested. This comes after charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust revealed one in four women skipped their cervical screening last year, with the proportion increasing to 1 in 3 among those aged 25 to 29.

He said that local screening services should put on extra evening and weekend appointments and that, as people lead increasingly busy lives, local NHS areas should look at ways that they can provide appointments at locations that are easier to access. He also suggested that social media be used to promote the services available.

Sir Mike also recommended a major overhaul to the design of screening programmes, which comes as the NHS is currently upgrading the cervical screening programme with the introduction of ‘primary HPV’ which will reduce the number cervical smears that NHS labs need to review.

The announcement was welcomed by chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Robert Music. He said:

‘We welcome this long-awaited report from Professor Sir Mike Richards, which we hope will be the catalyst for much-needed change in England’s cervical screening programme. As he says ‘urgent change’ is needed to ensure the programme can reach its full potential. However, we need to see quick and decisive action as a result of the recommendations before we are confident that the change needed will take place.

‘The speed at which innovation and changes have been introduced in England has been embarrassingly slow to date and far greater accountability and transparency is needed to ensure action is taken. The recommendations require significant investment and we call on the government to commit to the necessary funding as soon as possible.

‘Women in England, now and in the future, deserve the best possible cervical screening programme. Yet we are currently failing them. Now is the time for action.’

Photo credit – Pixabay

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