Offer cancer screenings during lunch breaks, report urges

NHS could tailor appointments so people don’t have to take time off work to attend them 

This is an edited version of an article first published by The Guardian.

Under plans being considered by NHS bosses, people could be offered cancer screenings in their lunch breaks in a bid to reverse the alarming fall in those attending appointments.

Those invited for screening should be able to go in the evening or at weekends to stop them having to take time off work, according to a major report ordered by ministers and the NHS.

The health service must kickstart a consumer revolution in how people access potentially life-saving tests. This is as part of a package of “urgent action” to arrest a slide in the number of people who turn up to be screened, Professor Sir Mike Richards said.

Text messages and social media campaigns should also be used to encourage people to attend, the government’s former cancer tsar added.

And while GP surgeries and health centres should be used, other premises near where people live should also be pressed into service, he added.

Driving up participation is a priority for the NHS because take-up rates have fallen so dramatically in recent years. For example, just 71% of women in England turn up to their appointment to be screened for cervical cancer – the lowest proportion for 21 years – while a similarly low percentage undergo screenings for breast cancer.

Bowel cancer has the lowest take-up rate of all: just 58% of those invited come for their appointment.

Richards examined trends in screening attendance for those three cancers as well as diabetic eye disease and the risk of someone suffering an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Those two have higher attendance rates, of 82.7% and 80.5% respectively.

“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,” Richards said.

“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.”

Screening programmes for a range of conditions collectively invite more than 15 million people a year to attend. But only about 10 million – two in three – turn up for the appointment.

The NHS in England has already started to do more to make screening easier for people to undergo by offering lung cancer checks in lorries in supermarket car parks.

GP practices in south-west London have found that ringing and sending letters to people who did not attend their bowel cancer screening appointment led to a 12% rise in take-up.

Similarly, messages posted on Facebook community groups have helped boost attendance at breast cancer screening appointments in Stoke-on-Trent by 13% since 2015.

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