In the news this week … changes to NHS screening programmes??

After the news that over 40,000 women were supposed to receive letters about cervical screening between January and June this year didn’t receive them as they were not sent; the NHS have stated that changes to the national screening scheme are needed.

Currently there are multiple screening programmes within the UK that are offered to people no matter their family history or other risk factors.

- Antenatal and newborn screening

- Cervical cancer screening

- Breast cancer screening

- Bowel cancer screening

- Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening

These schemes are offered to the general public in genders and age ranges that are more at risk of these cancers.

There are many other screening tests that are carried out within the UK however they are only offered to individuals at risk due not meeting certain criteria in order to make the test a national screening programme. We will explore these criteria within this blog.

The condition – the condition being screened for needs to be a condition that is an important health problem in terms of severity and frequency. The condition needs to be well understood in terms of the development of the disease and the prevalence. This condition needs to be detectable within the early stages and at this early stage treatment needs to have shown it is of more benefit than at later stages of the condition.

The test – the test should be able to detect the condition in the early stages, be simple, safe, precise and validated screening test. Test values should be known and suitable cut off levels defined and agreed upon if in terms of treatment. The test has to be acceptable to the population ensuring that the majority of people would go through with the screening. There has to be a policy in place in which further testing is available for those that have positive test results and the choices available for the individual to choose between.

The treatment – there has to be effective treatment for those that have early detection. This treatment has to produce an better outcome for patients who are detected early through screening programmes rather than presenting later with symptoms of the condition. If different treatment options available these should be offered to the patients appropriately.

The screening – there should be evidence through clinical trials that the screening programme is effective in reducing the effects of the disease on the patient. The benefits of the screening programme need to outweigh any physical and psychological harm that can be caused by the test, diagnostic procedures and treatment. As this is the NHS, unfortunately cost effectiveness also needs to be taken into consideration, is the cost of a screening test less than what it would cost to treat patients with a later stage of this condition.

Check out our next blog for how these relate to the screening programmes already in place within the UK.

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