A committee of MP’s have reported that more than a quarter of eligible women missed out on vital cancer screening as ministers and the NHS failed to hit targets across England.
The Public Accounts Committee found that figures were at 21-year low for numbers of women screened for cervical cancer in 2017-18 and there was a disparity across different areas of the country
It also highlighted an ageing IT system which the Department have described as “not fit for purpose”
MP’s looked at 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 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.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said:
“The benefits of screening cannot be under-estimated: if found at an early stage, treatment can be significantly more effective. Yet millions of people are not being screened for serious illnesses like bowel, breast and cervical cancer.
“Our inquiry has exposed a health service that is losing its grip on health screening programmes. Many individuals waiting for delayed results will suffer avoidable anxiety, stress and uncertainty. Those delays also stretch far beyond the Department’s target waiting periods.
“The Government’s understanding of variation across the country and the barriers facing different demographics of the population is patchy at best, which constrains their capacity to act.
“Ultimately, this is a question of health equality. The Government has a duty to ensure that everyone has access to health screening.
“We are pressing the Department and NHS England to set out a plan of action to: better hold local screening providers to account, overhaul governance arrangements and develop an IT system that works as intended.”