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Social media scheme boosts cancer screening uptake

Hundreds of practice nurses have been taught how social media can boost health including cancer screening uptake as part of a new scheme. 

Around 350 practice nurses and other practice staff have trained so far as Digital Health Champions, which includes learning about adopting new technology to improve health and how social media can help promote practice services. 

This follows a pilot at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service in Stoke-on-Trent that used Facebook to promote breast screening. It saw attendance for first-time appointments increase by an average of 12.9% between three-year screening cycles from 2014 to 2018. 

Meanwhile, the service shot from 58th to 11th for uptake levels nationwide between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Nationally, uptake of invitations for breast screening are in decline. 

As part of the pilot in Stoke-on-Trent, a Facebook page was created to provide information and reduce anxiety about breast examinations.  

The team also posted information about screening on community groups and the Facebook Messenger service enabled women to easily make appointments and ask questions about the screening process.  

Learning from the pilot is being shared locally in Staffordshire as well as through a partnership with national training and support company Redmoor Health.

For example, Bay Medical Group in Morecambe has seen increased cervical screening uptake following the scheme with one of their Facebook posts about the service reaching over a million people.  

Likewise, North Preston Medical Centre in Preston saw a 25% increase in women attending cervical screening after administration manager Danielle Longdon completed Digital Champion training and ran a Facebook campaign. 

The project recently linked up with Lancaster University to develop an AI chatbot that would assist staff in answering queries sent via Facebook Messenger.  

The pilot in Stoke-on-Trent is one of 20 being run across England as part of the three-year Widening Digital Participation Programme, set up to test new ways to help people access digital tools to improve their health, aiming to develop programmes that can be rolled out more widely.  

Nicola Gill, Director of the WDP Programme, said: ‘NHS Digital is incredibly proud to have been able to support this innovative model that is now being adopted and used by NHS organisations across the country. 

‘Going to where people go every day, in this case a Facebook community group, allows us to connect and engage with people in a way that’s familiar and convenient for them. Pioneering models of health prevention and management like this are making a real difference in improving health outcomes for excluded communities.’ 

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