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More convenient cancer screenings ‘would save thousands of lives’

Screenings will be offered during lunch breaks under new recommendations

NHS cancer screening should be made more convenient so that thousands more lives can be saved each year, a report recommends.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, who was commissioned to make recommendations on overhauling national screening programmes, has called for people to be given much greater choice over when and where they are screened.

Women should be able to choose appointments at doctors’ surgeries, health centres or locations close to their work during lunchtime or other breaks rather than having to attend their own GP practice, the report states.

Local screening services should put on extra evening and weekend appointments for breast, cervical and other cancer checks, and local NHS areas should look at ways that they can provide appointments at locations that are easier to access.

Sir Mike’s report also calls for more to be done to drive uptake through social media campaigns and text reminders.

In South West London, where GP practices have been following up with people who did not attend bowel screening, phone calls and reminder letters have led to a 12% increase in attendance. Posting in Facebook community groups has led to a 13% increase in first time attendances for breast screening in Stoke-on-Trent over the past four years.

The report also calls for patients to receive results within a standard timetable, while breast screening providers should aim to invite people at 34-month intervals after their previous appointment so that all participants can be screened within 36 months.

“Screening programmes are a vital way for the NHS to save more lives through prevention and earlier diagnosis and currently they save around 10,000 lives every year – that is something to be immensely proud of,” said Sir Mike. “Yet we know that they are far from realising their full potential – people live increasingly busy lives and we need to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to attend these important appointments.”

David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, added that innovative partnerships between the NHS and independent sector are already leading to significant investment in scanning services, helping to make screening more accessible to people’s homes and workplaces.

“We look forward to Sir Mike’s final report later on in the year on overall diagnostics capacity and we will continue to work with him and his team to ensure both the existing and potential contribution of the independent sector to the delivery of diagnostics care is recognised in the final report,” he said.