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Self-sampling considered as part of bid to boost cervical screening uptake

by Costanza Pearce
2 September 2020

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Home self-sampling could replace cervical smear tests in a GP setting for patients who do not wish to attend, Public Health England has said.

The plans are among a set of recommendations made by a new national screening committee that includes the chief medical officers (CMOs) of the four devolved nations.

Screening uptake for the cervical programme in England continues to fall short of the Government’s target and is getting worse, according to official statistics. 

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum conference, PHE national lead for screening Dr Robert Sherriff revealed the proposals, which include:

  • The piloting of cervical ‘self-sampling’ for patients who choose not to go to their GP for a smear test;
  • Building on existing plans to extend bowel screening to those aged 50 and above;
  • And further development of targeted screening programmes for those most at risk of certain cancers such as bowel, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Pulse that the screening group’s recommendations are being considered.

They added that the Government is currently working towards securing a CMO-chaired meeting to discuss the plans.

Health secretary Matt Hancock last year announced that the screening committee was to be set up, hosted by Public Health England (PHE).

In a written ministerial statement at the time, he said: ‘There should be a single source of national expert advice on both population-wide and targeted screening. 

‘Public Health England, our national public health agency, hosts world-class scientific and expert advice on screening and will host this function, building on its current role providing support to the UK national screening committee.’

He added: ‘I have asked the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, to work with his counterparts across the UK to consider the detail of the proposed new advisory mechanism and how it could meet the needs of all four UK countries. 

‘By extending and consolidating our arrangements for providing independent expert advice on all screening programmes, we will improve delivery and exploit the huge scientific progress that is being made to deliver faster and better access to the latest and best screening interventions.’

At the time, Mr Hancock added at the time that NHS England will become the ‘single body responsible for the delivery of screening services’.

However, it is now unclear how public health responsibilities will be distributed once PHE closes in April.

Last week, the health secretary outlined plans to replace PHE with a new ‘health protection’ body that will span the four UK nations and focus on protection against external viral and other threats to health.

GPs accused Mr Hancock of trying to scapegoat PHE for pandemic failures, despite its being directly under Government control as an executive agency, and questioned the wisdom of major reorganisation during the midst of the pandemic.

A version of this story was first published by our sister title Pulse.