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16.11.18

Capita could lose divisive cancer screening contract as part of major NHS England review

NHS bosses have announced a major overhaul of cancer screening programmes in the wake of the revelation that Capita failed to send almost 50,000 invitations and results to women after cervical cancer screenings.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, who was the nation’s first cancer director and the CQC chief inspector of hospitals, will lead a review into the national breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening programmes, advising NHS England and Public Health England on the best operational delivery model.

The review will look into possible changes to the currently outsourced provision and the possibility of bringing screening in-house, which could potentially see the end of private firm Capita’s divisive involvement. The private giant is currently three years into the seven-year contract.

On Wednesday it emerged that the outsourced contractor had failed to send up to 48,500 pieces of correspondence to women about cervical cancer tests after a “system error.” Many of the letters were invitations or reminders, and around 4,000 were tests results.

The BMA has written to Simon Stevens expressing “extreme concern” and called for NHS England to strip Capita of its “shambolic” contract and take Primary Care Support England back in-house. The deal has also previously been branded a “complete mess” by MPs in the influential Public Accounts Committee.

Today, NHS England said it was looking “to learn lessons from recent issues around breast and cervical screening.”

Richards said: “There is no doubt that the screening programmes in England save thousands of lives every year, however, as part of implementing NHS’s long-term plan, we want to make certain they are as effective as possible.

“This review provides the opportunity to look at recent advances in technology and innovative approaches to selecting people for screening, ensuring the NHS screening programme can go from strength to strength and save more lives.”

He will lead a team created to assess the strengths and weaknesses of current screening programmes and recommend how they should be reorganised and improved using new technologies and treatments, such as artificial intelligence and integrated research.

NHS England’s medical director, Steve Powis, said: “Screening is a vital and effective tool in our fight against cancer. However, recent issues with breast and cervical cancer screening have shown that we need to look closely at these existing programmes.”

The review is expected to report back in the summer of 2019.

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Image credit  Rui Vieira/PA Wire/PA Images

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