Cancer tests in supermarket car parks to be launched by NHS

NHS chief Simon Stevens will set out health service's new wave of screening at War on Cancer event

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 21 November 2017 01:53
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NHS England action to save lives by catching more cancers early

The NHS is set to roll out mobile lung cancer testing centres that have helped to significantly increase early diagnoses by offering cancer screening from supermarket car parks.

The programme, due to be announced today by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, will fund portable CT-scanners to screen smokers and ex-smokers in three more parts of the country, potentially saving thousands of lives.

In Manchester, the Lung Health Check pilot was able to “quadruple” early diagnosis rates by offering breath testing and on-the-spot scans around shopping areas in some of the city’s most deprived boroughs.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death and biggest cause of premature death in Manchester, the Lung Health Check programme wrote to patients aged 55 to 74 with a history of smoking inviting them for a check at one of the pop-up, one-stop-shop sites.

In the course of the pilot, 2,500 people got scans, diagnosing one cancer case for every 33 patients screened. Critically, four out of five of these were at an early, more treatable, stage.

Today’s drive for diagnostics sees the scheme, which has already been expanded to cover all of Greater Manchester, introduced to other NHS “cancer alliance” regions, the North East and Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and London.

NHS England told The Independent that the new areas had yet to set the criteria for their programmes, so it couldn’t discuss the impact yet, but the initial pilot said expanding the scheme could potentially “save thousands of lives”.

Speaking at a War on Cancer event, run by The Economist, today, Mr Stevens will set out steps the health service is taking to improve its rates of early diagnosis.

This follows a report showing the NHS lags behind Europe on cancer diagnosis and treatment because of underinvestment in the sector.

Figures earlier this year showed more than 100,000 patients waited longer than the two-week standard for receiving cancer tests after an urgent GP referral – a target that has been missed three years running.

This includes the nationwide adoption of a new home test for bowel cancer which could catch 1,500 more cancers a year, and a “revolution” in prostate cancer testing.

Three NHS trusts in London are piloting the revolutionary scheme using MRI scanning to screen patients who have been identified as at risk of prostate cancer by an earlier blood test.

Early tests have shown up to one-third of these patients can be safely discharged if the MRI shows nothing suspicious, where there is doubt patients are given a biopsy that day, significantly increasing diagnosis.

He will also announce plans to cut red tape holding back clinical trials for rare cancers.

Mr Stevens will say: “NHS cancer care is the best it’s ever been, with cancer survival increasing every year.

“Over the next 18 months the NHS will be rolling out new mobile and home screening kits to detect cancers earlier, when they can be treated best.”

Home testing kits for bowel cancer, known as faecal immunohistochemical testing (FIT), are due to roll out across the NHS in 2018, and could save health service funds as well as lives.

A pilot study that is underway at University College London Hospital (UCLH) is looking to see whether FIT testing can rule out bowel cancer in patients referred with abdominal symptoms suggesting cancer.

This could prevent 100,000 patients a year needing an invasive colonoscopy, and would save millions as the home test costs around £5 compared to £372 for each colonoscopy.

The announcement follows results of a Royal College of Surgeons audit of prostate cancer treatment, which found just 8 per cent of men received potentially unnecessary treatment last year.

Prostate treatments can leave men with incontinence and difficulty maintaining an erection, and the reduction in unnecessary treatment is an improvement on the previous year.

But charities warned that it was “very concerning” that so many men were still being diagnosed at late stages of the disease and the new NHS screening method could help this.

“Finding a way to routinely achieve early and accurate diagnosis is crucial if we are to save more lives from prostate cancer,” Heather Blake, director of support and influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said.

In the meantime, the new MRI screening “will play a key role in improving the accuracy of the current diagnostic process”.

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