The NHS will today pledge to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 for the first time ever, which could save thousands of lives every year in England.
Speaking at NHS Providers’ annual conference, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard will outline how the health service can achieve the goal for elimination by making it as easy as possible for people to get the lifesaving Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and increasing cervical screening uptake.
England is among the first countries in the world to set this elimination ambition within the next two decades.
As part of new plans to put the NHS one step closer to eliminating the HPV virus, which causes up to 99% of cervical cancers, health and care professionals will be supported to identify those who most need the vaccine, through targeted outreach and offering jabs in more convenient settings.
The NHS will also set out plans to improve access to online vaccination appointments nationally, with millions more people able to view their full vaccination record and book vaccines on the NHS App over the coming months and years.
The new measures will also give local health teams more flexibility to locate vaccine services in convenient local places such as libraries, community centres and local leisure or sport facilities. Vaccinations will become part of a ‘one-stop shop’, with NHS staff set to expand the offer of blood pressure tests and other health checks and advice, alongside routine vaccinations.
The HPV vaccine prevents invasive strains of the virus, known to cause almost all cervical cancers, as well as some mouth and throat cancers. It is given to both girls and boys in secondary school to protect them against catching the HPV infection and developing into pre-cancerous and cancer cells.
To eliminate cervical cancer by 2040, the NHS needs to ensure as many people as possible are being vaccinated against HPV, while also coming forward for cervical screening.
NHS screening helps prevent cervical cancer by using a highly effective test to check for high-risk HPV which may cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix. These abnormal cells can, over time, turn into cancer if left untreated.
Alongside its vaccination drive, the NHS is inviting more people than ever before for cervical screening – over five million people aged 25 to 64 were invited last year, with 3.5 million tested – while self-sampling will be trialled to determine if it could be introduced as part of national screening.
The World Health Organisation considers cervical cancer to be eliminated as a public health problem when there is an incidence rate lower than four per 100,000 women.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England will say: “It is truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition today – to eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement and through a combination of our HPV vaccination programme, and our highly-effective cervical screening programme, it could become a reality in in the next two decades.
“Vaccination and screening are the key tools which mean we are one step closer to achieving this and the NHS is already making it easier than ever before for people to protect themselves and their families – whether it’s through community outreach in areas of lower uptake or expanding the NHS app so that everyone has their vaccine history and booking options in the palm of their hand.
“As ever, the public can play their part by coming forward for their vaccines and screening appointments when invited – to achieve our goal of eliminating cervical cancer, we need as many people as possible to take up the offer, so please don’t delay – it could save your life.”
The NHS vaccination drive builds on the world-leading NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme, which allowed adults to book their own vaccine appointments online, and to get vaccinated in a range of non-NHS settings. As part of ongoing efforts to make it easier for people to ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations, the NHS is significantly expanding the NHS App with a new dedicated space where people can view their full vaccine record, and options to book appointments for any they are missing.
Parents will increasingly be able to see the vaccination status of their children on the App with support on how to book appointments.
Currently, most app users can view their COVID and flu vaccination status via the NHS App, but the NHS will be increasing the visibility of all 15 routine vaccine-preventable diseases, including HPV and MMR, making it easier for people to identify any missed vaccinations in their history.
Over 32.8 million people are already signed up to the NHS App, and through expanding its functions to include, booking invitation alerts, in-app bookings, and appointment notifications, the NHS aims to make it even easier for people to get vaccinated.
Steve Russell, chief delivery officer and national director for vaccinations and screening for NHS England, said: “Vaccination and screening are some of the most powerful tools we have for preventing disease and for keeping people from becoming unwell.
“We have learnt invaluable lessons from the pandemic, with our hugely successful Covid-19 vaccine programme saving thousands of lives, and our vision for the future of vaccination draws on those learnings, with plans to educate millions more people on the importance of vaccination, while making it easier than ever before to access vaccines online.”
Through routine and post-pandemic catch-up programmes, by school age year 10, 86.5% of girls and 81.5% of boys received one dose of the HPV vaccine, with studies suggesting the vaccine programme has prevented around 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers.
Following the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the NHS recently updated its HPV vaccination programme to single dose instead of two doses for under 25s. This move will make it more convenient for young people to ensure they are protected and up to date with their vaccinations.
One dose of the vaccine is now being offered to those in year 8 (aged 12 or 13 years) via the school aged immunisation service. Children are also able to get their vaccine either in school or at a community clinic.
Anyone eligible who hasn’t received their one dose HPV vaccine can catch up until their 25th birthday via their GP practice.
Also essential to the elimination of cervical cancer, is women coming forward for their routine cervical screening appointments. Currently a third of women invited do not take up the offer.
Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year, but the NHS screening programme helps save around 5,000 lives each year.
Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: “It’s tremendous news that we are on track to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 in this country. But alongside the success of the HPV vaccine for both boys and girls, regular cervical screenings for women are still essential to stop the development of cancerous cells in their tracks.
“A third of women do not take up the offer of cervical screening when invited, which is still a big risk for our plans. Cervical cancer often causes no symptoms during the early stages of the disease, so it is especially important that people attend their tests when in invited by the NHS and that those who are eligible get vaccinated against HPV.”
Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, Dr Julie Sharp, said: “We support NHS England’s target and pledge to save even more lives from cervical cancer. Combined with screening, HPV vaccination could reduce cervical cancer to the point where almost no one develops it.
“To ensure everyone has equal access to these life-saving programmes, there must be targeted action to increase HPV vaccination coverage and reduce barriers to cervical screening. This ambition will only be possible if the vaccination and screening programmes are backed by sufficient resource and modern IT infrastructure.”
Martin Hunt, CEO of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “We’re really pleased that NHS England is pledging to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040. The HPV vaccination programme is incredibly successful and has already led to an 87% decrease in cervical cancer incidence in women in their 20s. It’s fantastic to see renewed efforts to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to receive the jab and reduce their risk of cervical cancer. By improving the uptake of both cervical screening and HPV vaccines, we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past.”
Jane Lyons, CEO of Cancer52, said: “Vaccinating against HPV is vital in preventing not only almost all cervical cancers but in the prevention of other rare and less common cancers, such as mouth and throat cancer. NHS England’s commitment to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 is admirable. It’s this kind of ambition we welcome from NHS England to achieve long-term change.”