‘Cancer screening should be as easy as booking a flight’

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Online booking for cancer screening should be introduced, says the report

Making an appointment for breast and cervical cancer screening should be as simple as booking a plane ticket online, says the man behind an overhaul of the current system in England.

Prof Sir Mike Richards said text reminders and out-of-hours appointments were also a good idea.

Cervical screening or smear-test rates are at their lowest for a decade.

His interim report calls for technology to be used to stop the decline so more lives can be saved.

There are three national cancer screening programmes in England:

  • Cervical screening – offered to women aged 25 to 64, 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 screening programmes aim to detect cancer, or abnormal cells, early, often before symptoms develop, when treatment may be more effective.

More than 11 million invitations to screening were sent out last year.

But a recent report found that none of the programmes in England met its target last year, and many women experienced delays in getting results after cervical screening.

‘Busy lives’

Sir Mike, formerly NHS cancer director and chief inspector of hospitals, said: “Our screening programmes have led the world and save around 9,000 lives every year.

“However, people live increasingly busy lives and we need to make having a screening appointment as simple and convenient as booking a plane ticket online.

“The technology exists in many other walks of life and by adopting it across the NHS we can help identify even more cancers early when they are easier to treat and save more lives.”

In his interim report, he also says IT systems need to be upgraded across the country and there should be more clarity over who is in charge of cancer screening.

In May 2018, a major failure in breast screening was announced by the health secretary in England, followed by a serious incident with cervical screening six months later.

Sir Mike’s full report is published later this year.

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