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Government aims to increase NHS screening uptake with more ‘tailored’ programmes

The number of patients being screened will be 'maximised', but programmes will be more 'tailored' under new proposals from the health secretary.  

green paper on preventing ill health from the Department of Health and Social Care, published yesterday (July 22nd) states screening in the NHS will become ‘more personalised and stratified by risk’ in order to focus interventions where needed. 

The NHS Health Check scheme, a check up for adults aged between 40 and 74 commissioned by local councils, will be reviewed under the proposals.  

Under possible new plans for NHS Health Checks, evidence for a specific ‘MOT’ when approaching retirement age will be reviewed as well as ways to increase its uptake particularly among high-risk groups.  

According to NHS data, less than half (45.9%) of those eligible received a Health Check between 2018 and 2019.  

A new vaccination strategy will also be announced by spring 2020 to increase uptake and develop the current immunisation programme by incorporating new vaccines, according to the green paper.

There will be enhanced use of primary care networks and local immunisation co-ordinators to ensure mechanisms are in place to increase uptake.

This includes invite reminder systems, also known as call recall, and improved data services. 

The proposals have called for more focused screening in high-risk populations, for example lung cancer screening among smokers. 

The paper, Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s, also states there will be decreased screening among lower-risk groups, such as lengthening the screening intervals for women vaccinated against HPV. 

The new proposals have said screening will be easier for patients to access, with better use of technology and faster implementation of programmes.  

There will also be the launch of a mental health prevention package campaign for Every Mind Matters in October 2019, with the goal of making 1 million adults better equipped to look after their mental health. 

The paper said: 'In the future, the support and advice we provide to people will become much more focused and tailored. 

'Our vision for future screening in the NHS is for uptake to be maximised, including by making screening easier for people to access, and tackling unjustified variations in take-up [and] existing national screening programmes to become more personalised and stratified by risk, so we focus interventions where they are most needed.'  

It added: 'We recognise that there are challenges in the existing screening arrangements, and that reform is needed to achieve our vision for the future. Recommendations from the review will help shape our plans for change, supported by a strategic review of IT required to enable our vision for future screening. NHSX will lead on this element of the screening strategy. 

'We also recognise that there remains variation in screening outcomes across the country, and by deprivation and ethnicity. As part of our response to Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recommendations, we will set out our understanding of the variation in performance and a plan for reducing these inequalities. We are due to respond to these recommendations in July.' 

The green paper also announced: 

·         A Government commitment to eradicating smoking by 2030, 

·         Ending the sale of energy drinks to children under 16, 

·         And the exploration of a programme in 2020 to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing through social prescribing – primarily through connecting them to nature-based activities, 

·         The publication of a national genomics healthcare strategy in autumn 2019 to set out how the UK can become a global leader in genomic healthcare. 

Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing, said although nurses were very supportive of the recent shift towards prevention, she expressed her disappointment at having to wait some time for the plans ‘which appear to have been buried in the dying days of the current Government’.

She continued: ‘In addition, the plans already start at a disadvantage, as the Health Foundation suggests there will be a 25 per cent cut in public health spending per person by 2020/21.

‘One way to earn the faith of healthcare professionals would be to urgently pledge to restore cuts to the public health grant which local authorities rely on to deliver essential preventative services such as sexual health and smoking cessation services.  

‘In addition, the community nursing workforce is unprepared with widespread vacancies and staffing shortages. Cuts to training budgets have stopped nurses from progressing in their career and, until rectified, it’s difficult to see how anything substantial will change. 

‘In healthcare, our goal is to think of a person’s wellbeing over an entire lifetime, not just in the short term. It’s once again disappointing that short-sighted government policy still doesn’t reflect this.’ 

David Buck, senior fellow at The King's Fund said: 'Government cuts to public health budgets are leading to reductions in services such as drug treatment, smoking cessation and sexual health services.  

'It is essential that the new government moves quickly to shore up these vital services by finding the £1bn needed to restore budgets to where they need to be.’

The proposals follow research that found that some women may be able to go as much as 10 years between cervical screening appointments.