Closed petition Invest to guarantee women’s access to breast screening – now and for the future

Screening saves lives from breast cancer. But since the pandemic started, it is estimated over 1 million women have missed out on screening in England, and thousands may be living with undiagnosed breast cancer as a result. The Government must urgently invest in breast screening to prevent deaths.

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Despite being one of the NHS’s biggest success stories, breast screening is at breaking point. Without investment, it may no longer be the powerful, cost-effective tool for early diagnosis it’s been for the past 35 years.

We need breast screening that is accessible to all eligible women and has enough staff and resources to offer the care women deserve, now and in decades to come.

More Government funding is needed to remove barriers to screening, support units, and modernise the programme.

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Government responded

This response was given on 13 March 2023

The Government is committed to supporting and improving the NHS breast screening programme. Measures have been introduced to reduce barriers to access and improve uptake of screening.

Read the response in full

The NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHS BSP) offers all women in England between the ages of 50 and their 71st birthday the opportunity to be screened every three years for breast cancer, in order to help detect abnormalities and intervene early to reduce the number of lives lost to invasive breast cancer. Breast screening prevents approximately 1,300 women dying of breast cancer every year.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic a number of people were not invited to or did not attend their breast screening appointments. As such there was a reduction in the total number of people attending their screening appointments, this has now improved with 2.06 million women screened in 2021-22 compared to 1.12 million in 2020-21.

The NHS breast screening programme experiences issues with low uptake. With research showing that breast screening uptake is better in more affluent areas, even though breast cancer affects all socio-economic groups. Evidence shows that women are more likely to attend for breast screening if they have access to a car; this can be an issue in rural areas.

In line with the evidence the government continues to support investment in mobile breast screening units, which are usually in convenient community locations, such as supermarket carparks, leisure centres and other community facilities. These are the best way to increase capacity in breast screening while also improving access and addressing health inequalities.

As a part of the Women’s Health Strategy published in July 2022, £10 million funding was awarded to the NHS breast screening programme. This funding will provide 29 new mobile and static breast screening units, 58 remote assess upgrades and nearly 70 lifesaving service upgrades, targeted at areas of low uptake, to improve capacity and tackle barriers to access. This funding is now in place for NHS trusts to spend in the 2022/23 financial year.

These new units and service upgrades will allow for the greater provision of breast screening across the country and will boost uptake of screening in areas where attendance is low, tackle health disparities and contribute towards earlier diagnosis rates in line with the NHS Long Term Plan.

Additionally, the government has worked with the NHS to increase uptake of breast screening through:

o Breast Screening Offices (BSO) running extra screening sessions and fully optimising available appointments to clear the mammogram backlog.

o Developing a ‘NHS National Demand and Capacity Tool’ to support collation and analyses of data to identify where support and interventions are required.

o Adapting mobile breast screening units so that women can be seen safely in line with infection protection and control procedures.

o Providers having been encouraged to use methods such as text messaging to remind women about their breast screening invitation and encourage them to attend.

o Regional commissioners working closely with cancer alliances and cancer charities to develop uptake plans which address specific population needs.

Department of Health and Social Care

MPs investigate innovations in cancer care

A group of MPs called the Health and Social Care Committee are looking into innovations that can transform cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Read the Committee's press notice announcing this work.

The Committee is considering points including:

  • What innovations have the greatest potential to transform cancer diagnosis and treatment

  • How innovations in diagnosing and treating cancer can be deployed into frontline clinical settings

  • What can be learnt about innovative cancer diagnosis and treatment from international examples of best practice

  • How workforce planning is keeping up with innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer

  • How the impact of innovations in cancer diagnosis and treatment on health inequalities is taken into account

What happens next?

The Committee is going to conduct oral evidence sessions where it will hear from experts in the sector as well as Government and NHS officials.

An evidence session is a hearing where MPs ask key experts, such as Ministers, academics and/or campaigners, questions on a particular topic. These experts are called "witnesses" and they help MPs to gain a deeper understanding of the topic.

The Committee will then consider all the evidence it has taken and publish a report of its findings with recommendations to the Government on any changes that might be needed.

For more information about the inquiry, visit the Committee's inquiry page.

What is the Health and Social Care Committee?

The Health and Social Care Committee is a cross-party group of MPs that conduct inquiries into issues in Health and Social Care in the UK.

The Health and Social Care Committee is a select committee.

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