Jim Shannon – 2015 Parliamentary Question to the Department of Health

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Jim Shannon on 2015-11-09.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when he next plans to review the effectiveness of cancer screening for women.

Jane Ellison

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) advises Ministers and the National Health Service in all four countries about all aspects of screening policy. The UK NSC reviews its recommendations on a three year basis or earlier if any new peer reviewed evidence emerges.

The UK NSC is currently reviewing the evidence on whether human papillomavirus testing as primary screening for cervical disease should replace the currently used cytology test and whether faecal immunochemical testing could be used as the primary screening marker in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. Public consultations on both reviews have just closed and the UK NSC is expected to make a recommendation to ministers later this month.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme is currently carrying out a long-term trial to investigate extending current screening eligibility to women aged 47-49 and 71-73. Over two million women have taken part in a randomised control trial, with the impact on breast cancer mortality rates due to be reported in the early 2020s. The UK NSC will consider the research evidence when it is published.

We are not aware of steps being taken by employers to enable staff to take time off work to attend cancer screening appointments. However, Macmillan has produced, “Your rights at work” an information leaflet on reasonable adjustments in the workplace for people who have or have had cancer.

In 2011, the UK NSC recommended that bowel scope screening could be offered in addition to the homes testing kit as part of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. Currently 76% of bowel scope screening centres in England are operational, and the Secretary of State’s commitment is to have this programme rolled out to all screening centres in England by the end of 2016. Health Education England has commissioned a training pilot for non-medical endoscopists (NMEs) to provide accelerated training in certain diagnostics procedures, with the aim of providing additional screening capacity. The pilot will commence in January 2016. A framework has also been developed to help NMEs demonstrate that they have achieved the competency levels required for their role.

The NHS Screening Programmes have a dedicated team who oversee education, training and stakeholder information. This involves working closely with Royal Colleges, Professional bodies, stakeholder groups, NHS England, Health Education England and the Public Health England campaigns team. A vast range of educational resources exist which are free to NHS staff and cover all screening programme plus the theory and practice of screening. The team is currently expanding the range of taught courses and e-learning resources to make learning more accessible. Accessible patient information is available to educate users of the service and enable informed choices regarding screening. This is complemented by a comprehensive set of material on NHS Choices regarding all 11 NHS Screening Programmes. Patient information is constantly updated and users are involved in the reviews and evaluation of all materials.

To increase rates of cervical screening in young women, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme has commissioned a £1 million study to determine which interventions are effective at increasing screening uptake amongst women who are receiving their first invitation from the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. The study began in November 2011 and reports can be expected in spring 2016.

In addition, the Department of Health Behavioural Insight team is developing a trial to investigate the use of behavioural insights to optimise the content of the invitation letter for cervical screening.