Health screening is an important way of identifying potentially life-threatening illnesses at an early stage. Yet the Department of Health & Social Care (the Department), NHS England and Public Health England (the national health bodies) are not doing enough to make sure that everyone who is eligible to take part in screening is doing so, and do not know if everyone who should be invited for screening has been. We took evidence on the management of four of the 11 health screening programmes operating in England: bowel, breast and cervical cancers and abdominal aortic aneurism. None of the screening programmes we examined met their targets for ensuring the eligible population was screened in 2017–18. Performance varies drastically across the country and yet the national health bodies still do not know which specific barriers prevent certain groups from attending meaning they cannot effectively target these groups to encourage them to attend.
The IT used to identify the eligible population for screening has been unfit for purpose for screening programmes since 2011, but still has not been replaced. National health bodies therefore run a constant risk of not knowing if all the people who should have been identified for screening have been. At the centre of this, the national oversight of screening programmes has failed patients, resulting in thousands of women not being invited for breast and cervical screenings or waiting too long for their cervical screening results. The national health bodies have been too slow to recognise and respond to the problems caused, including sufficiently holding local screening providers to account for long-term failure.
Published: 10 May 2019