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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.

Deborah Tomalin

Deborah took up the role of NHS England Director of Public Health Commissioning and Operations in April 2019, having worked previously as the Director of Commissioning in the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Local Office of NHS England (South East Region) which included primary care and public health. Deborah is responsible for the commissioning and operations of the Section 7a services in England – screening (cancer and non-cancer), immunisation and Child Health Information Services. Underpinning successful delivery of all these services is digital technology and Deborah works very closely with NHSX and NHSD.

Deborah started working for NHS England in April 2013 as Associate Director South East Coast Strategic Clinical Networks & Clinical Senate creating 4 strategic clinical networks and a clinical senate for Kent, Surrey and Sussex and then became Director of Commissioning in 2014, which at that time also covered specialised commissioning.

Prior to NHS England, Deborah spent over 16 years setting up and managing “clinical networks” in the NHS starting with the Sussex Cancer Network in 1999 and moving by 2010 to directing one team running 14 networks.

Deborah started working in the NHS over 37 years ago training to be a nurse, completing a BSc in Nursing Studies at St Georges Hospital/Kings College (KQC) as one of the first nurse graduates, and I then held a variety of nursing posts in London, moved into clinical research trials and then honed this interest in research working first at the Royal College of Nursing and then the Nursing Research Unit at Kings College. In 1992, Deborah moved to Brighton Health Care to establish a clinical audit function and then clinical risk management systems with a spell as Assistant Director of Quality.

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