Cancer screening to be overhauled as part of NHS long term plan to improve care and save lives

Professor Sir Mike Richards will lead a major overhaul of national cancer screening programmes as part of a renewed drive to improve care and save lives, NHS England has today announced.

Increasing early detection of cancers when they are easier to treat is at the heart of the NHS’s long term plan to upgrade services and make sure patients benefit from new technologies and treatments.

Sir Mike, who was the NHS’ first cancer director and is the former CQC 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 NHS has been world leading by introducing national cancer screening programmes which have saved thousands of lives.

The review will look at how latest innovations can be utilised, including the potential use of artificial intelligence, integrating research and encourage more eligible people to be screened. It will also look to learn lessons from recent issues around breast and cervical screening.

As part of the process, 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.

Professor Sir Mike Richards 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.”

Professor Paul Cosford, Public Health England Medical Director, said: “The NHS’s world-leading cancer screening programmes are a key early intervention that saves lives, and Sir Mike Richards is uniquely well placed to advise on how we improve it for the 21st century.”

Screening can help spot problems early before a person has any symptoms, when cancer is often easier to treat. In some cases it can even prevent cancers from developing in the first place, by spotting people at risk.

There are three national cancer screening programmes in England.

  • Cervical screening – offered to women aged 25 to 64, with screening offered every three years for women aged up to 49 and every five years from 50 to 64.
  • Breast screening – offered to women aged 50 to 70, with women over 70 able to self-refer for screening.
  • Bowel screening – offered to men and women aged 60 to 74, and another bowel screening test offered to men and women at the age of 55 in some parts of England.

The review, which is expected to report by summer 2019, will assess the strengths and weakness of the current cancer screening programmes, making 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 expert.
  • How best to integrate screening programmes with other initiatives the NHS cancer programme is leading to promote early diagnosis of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses  and place it 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 that the necessary workforce is trained to deliver the programmes.
  • How best to ensure ongoing research and evaluation can be integrated into the screening programme.