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NHS to offer women mammograms and smears in lunch breaks in bid to boost cancer survival rates

Laura Donnelly
Sir Mike calls for a major overhaul of the programme 

 

Women will be offered mammograms and smear tests in their lunch breaks, in a bid to reverse a steep decline in the take up of checks. 

And GPs could be paid extra to offer checks at evenings and weekends, in an attempt to drive up Britain’s cancer survival rates. 

A major review of NHS screening today calls for a major overhaul of the current system, warning that repeated delays and blunders by those in charge of it are costing lives. 

Under the plans, women will be offered the chance to have checks in GP surgeries or clinics near their work, while remaining registered with a local family doctor. 

Former cancer tsar Prof Sir Mike Richards was asked to examine the system - which also covers bowel cancer, aortic aneurism and diabetic eye disease - following a series of scandals.

His damning report today warns that lives have been lost because of the way the programmes have been run. 

Responsibility for screening is shared among a number of bodies, leading to “confusion, delays and risks to patient safety” he says. 

It calls for Public Health England to be stripped of responsibility for delivering the programme, a recommendation which the Health Secretary immediately accepted. 

“This lack of clarity has contributed to delays in implementing changes which have been shown to save lives,” he says, highlighting the slow introduction of new tests for bowel and cervical cancer. “These delays have inevitably led to avoidable loss of life”.

The review says the current system is working so slowly that the new FIT test for bowel cancer, is only being introduced now, 16 years after pilot schemes showed success. 

Such tests can identify 1,500 cases of cancer every year that would otherwise be missed. 

Changes to cervical cancer screening - bringing in a new system of HPV tests -  were recommended four years ago, but have yet to be introduced.

Every year waiting for the system means an extra 600 cases of disease, his report warns.

Sir Mike raises concerns that poor handling of the new system - which has seen staff leaving en masse, after being warned of the closure of 38 labs - has already caused “major delays,” with a backlog of tests. 

Take-up of cervical screening is now the lowest it has been since records began 21 years ago, while uptake of mammograms has reached a decade low.

The review, which also calls for online booking, and text reminders for appointments, highlights

 "substantial" evidence that people would be more likely to accept invitations for screening if appointments were available at convenient times and locations - either near home or their place of work.

Some women also prefer to be screened at sexual health clinics, Sir Mike said. 

The national review follows an inquiry which found almost half a million women were forced to endure needless anxiety about cancer blunders. Separate errors saw nearly 50,000 women miss results and screening reminders for cervical cancer.

Sir Mike said: “People live increasingly busy lives and we need to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to attend these important appointments."

Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, backed the plans. 

He said: “I'm grateful to Sir Mike for taking on this important assignment. 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.”