The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

Screening out trouble

NHS England today announced it will be overhauling all three national cancer screening programmes as part of the long-term plan. It has signed up the government’s first national cancer director, Sir Mike Richards, to lead a review.

Among his duties, Professor Sir Mike has been tasked with piecing together the lessons learned from the national incidents that have assailed the cancer screening programmes this year.

His team will be the fifth team to investigate problems in one or more of the breast, bowel and cervical screening programmes. The National Audit Office is investigating all four national screening programmes, which include the cancer screens.

The concerns started with the breast screening programme. In May, then health secretary, Jeremy Hunt was forced to explain to Parliament that a problem with an algorithm in the breast screening programme meant 450,000 women had not been invited to their final screening test. 

But a review of the programme for Public Health England by management consultants PwC later found the IT system seemed to be ticking along nicely and governance issues were actually, at least partly, to blame

PHE’s overarching internal investigation has yet to be published – it is expected before the year end, along with the results of an external inquiry into the same issue, chaired by the chief executive of the cancer charity Macmillan.

But the breast screening programme is not the only one to come under scrutiny. 

Just yesterday, we learned of another clinical inquiry, this time by NHS England and PHE into failures at the cervical screening programme. The public health and primary care minister Steve Brine told MPs the inquiry found more than 47,000 women did not get letters inviting them to make an appointment to be screened or a letter containing the results of their latest screen. The fault lay with the call and recall process, which is a part of the primary care support service provided by outsourcing giant Capita.

Hopefully, nobody will be left off the list when it comes to sending out Professor Sir Mike’s findings. 

More Matt

We’ve published a bonus additional story from our extensive Matt Hancock interview – this time on his favourite topic and comfort zone, technology.

So enthusiastic is the health and social care secretary about IT, that HSJ is aware he attended a techUK dinner on Wednesday night following on from the marathon Brexit Cabinet argument session which ran from early afternoon to early evening – and ahead of appearing to defend the prime minister’s deal on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the following morning.

In the extensive interview last week, Mr Hancock told HSJ:

  • Every trust should have a chief information officer reporting to their chief executive – and chiefs who don’t have that should be having a careful think
  • That NHS home built tech could often be better and much better value than that bought in from elsewhere
  • That the NHS needed to get its head around data and AI issues for itself – not outsource them to an expert global firm
  • That IT firm bosses had told him they would adhere to his new standards for system interoperability