Not a single one of the three main health screening programmes in England, bowel, breast or cervical, met their targets last year, according to a report by the National Audit Office.
The report found that, in 2017/18, none of the screening programmes met their standard coverage target, although bowel screening achieved coverage of 59.6% against a target of 60%. All met their lower threshold except for the cervical screening programme which achieved coverage of 72% against a standard target of 80% and a lower threshold of 75%
‘Today’s report paints a deeply concerning picture of the state of screening programmes in England, with missed targets, inconsistent coverage, and aging IT systems,’ said Rebecca Fisher, GP and Health Foundation policy fellow.
‘England currently offers screening for breast, cervical and bowel cancers. Although the overall proportion of cancers detected through screening is relatively low – 6% of all cancer diagnoses follow screening – by detecting pre-cancerous changes, or early stage cancers, screening saves lives. For example, evidence suggests that screening currently prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths; this could increase to 83% if everyone who is eligible attended.
There were also delays in cervical screening results reaching half of women tested, with a backlog of nearly 100,000 samples. Bowel screening performed best, narrowly missing its 60% target.
‘The public should be encouraged to attend screening, but they must be able to trust the quality of the services they are being offered,’ added Dr Fisher. ‘Today’s report highlights an urgent need for investment in the IT and equipment required to make improvements. Policymakers must also consider how to most efficiently run screening programmes to ensure that these potentially life-saving services are equally available right across the country.’