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NHS screening IT ‘woefully out of date’ says review


IT systems used in NHS screening urgently need renewing, particularly those used for breast and cervical cancer, according to an independent review.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, the NHS’s first cancer director, was commissioned to review screening services by NHS England. He describes the IT systems used in screening as “woefully out of date and long due for replacement”.

However, having already made similar recommendations in an interim report, he welcomed the fact that NHSX has since taken overall responsibility for replacing these systems with initial scoping work already underway.

“It will be important to progress this work programme at pace, and under close scrutiny,” he writes in the foreword to his final review.

Richards says that the systems under development should include functionality to support improved uptake and coverage of screening including targeted approaches. He urges that text message reminders should be used for all screening programmes, with further pilots of social media campaigns followed by formal evaluation and widespread use if it proves useful.

His report says that IT introduced more recently for bowel cancer and abdominal aortic aneurysms is “more functional”, with single management systems for the whole of England. However, those used for breast and cervical cancer and diabetic eye screening have multiple versions, generally one per provider. They also have a low priority, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that some breast screening management systems have not been updated since 2017’s Wannacry cyber attack.

All of the IT used in screening has difficulties joining up GP and hospital systems, Richards adds. “As such, IT systems cannot support the safe running of screening programmes nor protect against missed opportunities to diagnose cancer and other disease,” he says.

In February, the National Audit Office said that information for screening is held on 83 separate databases, with screening for cervical cancer relying on IT that was more than three decades old.


Image: Public Health England used under the Open Government Licence

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