Cancer screening programmes in England will be overhauled after tens of thousands of women were caught up in major blunders.
NHS England has asked Professor Sir Mike Richards to lead the review into the national cervical, breast and bowel examination schemes.
“Recent issues with breast and cervical cancer screening have shown that we need to look closely at these existing programmes”
It comes just days after it emerged nearly 50,000 women missed out on information about cervical cancer tests between January and June, because letters were not sent. Private firm Capita is in charge on distributing the letters on behalf on NHS England.
Leaders said the review would include “possible changes to currently outsourced provision”.
The error followed a similar issue revealed in May this year in which 450,000 older women were not invited to their final routine breast cancer screening over an eight-year period due to an NHS software glitch.
The review will consider what lessons can be learnt from these mistakes. It will also look at how latest technology such as artificial intelligence can be used to improve the programmes and how to ensure staff are given adequate training to deliver the schemes.
“There is no doubt that the screening programmes in England save thousands of lives every year”
Sir Mike was the first NHS cancer director and is the former chief inspector of hospitals for the Care Quality Commission.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Sir Mike Richards
The results of the inquiry, which are expected to be complete by summer 2019, will be fed back to NHS England and Public Health England.
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,” he added.
Professor Paul Cosford, Public Health England medical director, said the NHS’ cancer screening programmes were “world-leading” and saved lives.
He noted that Sir Mike was ”uniquely well placed” to advise on how the schemes could be improved.
Dr Paul Cosford
The screening schemes aim to catch problems early when cancer is usually easier to treat and even prevent the disease from developing by spotting people at risk.
Increasing early detection of cancers will be a key element of the NHS long-term plan, due to be published in December, according to NHS England.