• Former national cancer lead to review breast, bowel and cervical screening programmes
  • He will recommend ways to improve uptake, fix IT problems and potentially change outsourcing contracts
  • Overhaul comes on top of NAO investigation and independent inquiry into programme failings this year

NHS England will overhaul cancer screening as part of the long-term plan and has called on England’s first national cancer director to lead the work.

Sir Mike Richards will review England’s three national cancer screening programmes, NHS England said today. He is expected to report next summer.

The review will examine the breast, bowel and cervical screening programmes’ strengths and weaknesses, try to increase the number of eligible patients being screened, and find ways of incorporating new technology and techniques into existing programmes.

It has also been tasked with learning lessons from recent issues that affected the breast and cervical screening programmes.

The review comes three weeks after HSJ revealed the National Audit Office is investigating the four national screening programmes, consisting of the three cancer programmes now under review and the abdominal aortic aneurysm screening programme.

Professor Sir Mike’s mandate includes recommending how to update the IT infrastructure that supports screening, which has been blamed for the issues this year.

In May, Jeremy Hunt, then health and social care secretary, told Parliament hundreds of thousands of women had been told they had not been invited for their final breast screen.

Mr Hunt blamed an error in an algorithm in the programme’s IT system. However, in September, HSJ revealed an internal review by management consultants PwC for Public Health England had found this was not the case, instead blaming a lack of governance and lost “corporate memory” for the national incident.

An external inquiry of the breast screening programme and the problems that have dogged it over the past six months is expected to report by the end of the year.

More recently, it emerged yesterday that 40,000 women did not receive letters from the national cervical screening programme. The problem occurred in the first six months of this year.

Although most of the women missed out on invitations to be screened, around 4,000 were not sent their screening results.

The outsourcing firm Capita, which provides the notification service as part of its primary care support contract, has apologised for the failure.

In July, MPs on the public accounts committee branded Capita’s £330m contract to support primary care services “a shambles”. Professor Sir Mike has been told to look at “possible changes to currently outsourced provision”.

The cervical screening programme has been running since 1988, and some of its IT systems date back to the start of the programme.

In October, HSJ revealed Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, had told health secretary Matt Hancock the ageing IT systems could put lives at risk if improvements were not made urgently.

Mr Music was also worried relying on the existing IT system would imperil the rollout of primary HPV testing, where labs check cell samples for the presence of the cancer-causing virus rather than looking for any early signs of cancer in the cells themselves.

It was meant to start running by April 2019, but it is now due to be the national standard for screening by December next year. Academics last month published research estimating delaying by a further year could cost the government at least £32m in lost quality adjusted life years.