Health screening is an important way of identifying potentially life-threatening illnesses at an early stage. Health screening programmes in England currently cover a range of conditions including different types of cancer, foetal and new-born screening, diabetes and abdominal aortic aneurism. This report focuses on four of the 11 screening programmes operating in England: screening for bowel, breast and cervical cancers and abdominal aortic aneurism. In 2017–18, almost 8 million people were screened for these conditions at a cost of £423 million. The Department is ultimately responsible for the delivery of health screening in England. It has delegated responsibility for health screening to NHS England, via an annual public health functions agreement. NHS England commissions and manages local screening providers; it also manages some of the IT that supports delivery of the programmes. Public Health England supports the Department and NHS England with expert advice, analysing and producing data; managing some of the IT that supports delivery of the programmes; and undertaking quality assurance work on the screening programmes to make sure that certain standards are met.
In May 2018 the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced there had been a failure in the system that invites women for screening, affecting some 450,000 women. This number turned out to be closer to 122,000 but nonetheless raised concerns about health screening programmes. In October 2018, NHS England became aware of a similar issue on the cervical screening programme, with 43,220 women not receiving letters inviting them for a cervical cancer screening and a further 4,508 not being sent their results letters.
Published: 10 May 2019