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MPs slam Government for ‘losing its grip’ as women’s cancer screening falls to lowest in decades

MPs slam Government for ‘losing its grip’ as women’s cancer screening falls to lowest in decades
3 min read

More than a quarter of eligible women missed out on vital cancer screening as ministers and the NHS failed to hit targets across England, MPs have warned.

The Public Accounts Committee found that just one Clinical Commissioning Group area out of 207 met its target to provide cervical screening for 80% or more of women who qualify.

The group found that the procedure hit a 21-year low across England after just 71.7% of women eligible were screened in 2017/18.

After taking evidence on the management of bowel, breast and cervical cancers and abdominal aortic aneurism, it was revealed that none of the screening programmes met their targets.

In a report, ministers and NHS bosses were criticised for being “too slow” to detect that arrangements for oversight and monitoring had failed.

In the case of breast screening, the failure went undetected for more than half a decade, it said.

It also highlighted that there remains a “constant risk” that those who should receive the service are not getting it, since the IT systems used were ruled “unfit for purpose” as early as 2011.

The body called for a more integrated system to be brought in when the new system is brought in next year.

Elsewhere the group said health bodies do not understand the reasons behind the “drastic” disparities in who receives the treatment across England and therefore they cannot know who to target.

The report found that some areas in the North East are consistently reaching more of their eligible populations than areas of London.

“The wealth of insight and knowledge local authorities hold about the specific barriers that prevent groups within their areas from attending screening appointments seems to have been completely ignored,” the report said.

“Without this detailed understanding, the national bodies will not be able to address the health inequalities that exist."

Chair of the committee Meg Hillier said ministers and NHS England must better hold local screening providers to account, overhaul governance arrangements and develop an IT system that works as intended.” 

She said that despite the fact that early treatment can make it significantly more effective, millions were missing out on being screened for serious illnesses. 

“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."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “11 million people benefit from the NHS’ world class screening programmes every year, and record numbers of people are receiving lifesaving NHS treatment.

“Although we await further recommendations from the Sir Mike Richards Review of national screening programmes, we are pushing ahead with important changes to help detect as many cancers as early as possible.

"Under the Long Term Plan for the NHS - backed by an extra £33.9bn a year by 2023/24 - patients with suspected cancer are beginning to receive a diagnosis or the all clear within 28 days, and the NHS in England is investing £200million to fund new ways to rapidly detect and treat cancer.”

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