• Screening IT systems set for overhaul
  • Follows high-profile problems with breast and cervical screening

The IT systems for national screening services are set for a major overhaul in the wake of two high-profile failures in the programmes. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has said new IT infrastructure will be part of a long-term solution for problems in the breast cancer screening programme which emerged last year.

However, the DHSC’s response to a review of the breast screening failures also said there would be a wider strategic review of all screening programmes’ IT requirements, and that it was developing a business case to “consider the development of a new platform for screening IT programmes”.

Meanwhile, HSJ understands Sir Mike Richards, who is currently reviewing screening programmes for NHS England, is also set to recommend a far-reaching overhaul of cancer IT screening programmes. He has heard consistent feedback that they are poor and need improving, HSJ was told.

Sir Mike’s review, due to produce an interim report next month and a full report in the summer, will inform the IT changes, according to the DHSC response.

The independent review of breast screening, published in December, investigated a national incident that emerged last summer when there was huge concern that many women may have missed screens.

Among its findings were that 5,000 women had not been invited for their final screen “because of manual errors in using the unwieldy IT systems”.

The DHSC response said the new IT system will “aim to minimise the need for manual entry as well as provide easier, more rapid access to performance data, allowing issues to be identified more easily”.

Public Health England is already working to reduce the manual inputting of data and “making the system more user-friendly”, according to the report.

Breast screening IT was described as “not fit for purpose” in the terms of reference for Sir Mike’s review, while the National Audit Office said the IT system screening relies on is “complex and ageing”.

The IT system of the national cervical screening programme has also been the subject of major concern over the past 12 months.

Last autumn, a leading cancer charity warned lives could be put at risk unless the government urgently reviewed this infrastructure. It has also emerged that a failure in Capita’s primary care support services had meant 43,000 women had not received letters about their screening results. Capita apologised to the women affected by the clinical error.

Meanwhile the cervical screening system is due to go through a fundamental overhaul this year. Now cell samples are checked for abnormalities under a microscope. By December, it is meant to shift to primary HPV screening, where samples are tested for the cancer-causing human papillomavirus first. However, there is concern this upheaval will strain the ageing IT infrastructure beyond breaking point.

Cervical screening uptake is currently at a 20-year low, which compelled PHE this month to launch its first-ever national media drive to encourage more women to take part in the cervical screening programme.