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Improvements to Cervical Screening Programme could prevent 600 cancer cases a year
The Director of Public Health Commissioning and Operations reflects on the unrelenting commitment of staff to implement a new test that could prevent 600 more cervical cancers every year.
As we enter a new decade, December saw the NHS has implement a new testing process as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme in England that could prevent around 600 additional cases of cervical cancer a year.
Achieving this key NHS Long Term Plan commitment is testament to the hard work of the many staff that have been involved across the country.
HPV Primary Screening is now the first line of testing in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme in England. All samples taken at cervical screening appointments will firstly be tested for high risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is the virus which causes over 99% of cervical cancers. It is a more sensitive test with longer protection of a negative result and will identify more people at risk of cervical cancer. HPV Primary Screening is also a more efficient screening method, because it is an automated test and only HPV positive samples need to be further analysed using liquid based cytology.
As ever, a big national service change like this is rarely straight forward. It has involved a major change in the number of providers delivering laboratory services to support the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. Those providing these services need to cover bigger areas of the country – to ensure the high quality standards within the programme are maintained.
We also need to acknowledge the uncertainty that transitioning to this new testing process has created for many of the staff working in these services. They are highly skilled and experienced people and it’s important we retain their expertise in the NHS.
This is a milestone moment for NHS services and for the fight to save more lives from cancer. As we move through an extremely busy time for the NHS but look ahead to the opportunities in 2020, it feels fitting to reflect on this moment and say thank you to the health professionals that have made it possible.
It is a great step forward and we hope the roll out of the HPV primary testing programme is a success that will save many lives. Many experienced professionals have been left the service because of the reduction in laboratories from 46 to 8. Unfortunately, workforce concerns were an after thought and there remains big doubts about how the potential of the new screening programme can be fulfilled without the staff on the ground to put in the hard work and hard graft. How will NHS England retain, recruit and develop employees to undertake these very important task and not allow significant back logs to occur? This is something Unite and other trade unions have raised with NHS England/Improvement over the years. I and my fellow trade union colleagues would be delighted to meet with you to hear of your vision of the future and discuss the concerns of our members.