Personalisation and safety in screening: two sides of the same coin

As we prepare for the launch of the new NHS Cervical Screening Management System, Dr Simon Eccles, NHSX’s lead for digital transformation of screening, sets out longer term plans.

Since our last blog post on the digital transformation of screening, the world of digital health has delivered at a pace far greater than any of us could have predicted. The lessons learned for screening services have been significant, and our strategic plans and milestones reflect that. As a result, we’re now prioritising multi-channel engagement so participants will be able to find out about, make informed screening decisions, and track their results through a range of mechanisms - web, app, email and letter - according to their preferences. We're seeking to develop and share screening system capabilities with other preventative health programmes. And we're focussing first on supporting NHS restoration and addressing screening backlogs.

The digital transformation of screening programme aims to introduce state-of-the-art technology to support NHS screening services achieve the ambitions set out in the 2019 Independent Review of Screening by Professor Sir Mike Richards. These include increasing the uptake of screening and making it more personalised and targeted. We have witnessed the importance of personalisation in COVID-19 vaccination and testing delivery, and how critical equity is to improving overall population health. There are opportunities now to work across preventative health and to simplify how we engage with people in ways that best suit them.

Our top priority throughout is to ensure the clinical safety of screening participants. This is the basis for trust in the NHS. In the short term this has meant weighing our ambitions for the future with the urgent priority to move the cervical screening service onto a more secure and reliable IT system. So, in autumn 2021, our first milestone will be to launch a new cloud-based IT system for cervical screening.

Introducing the new NHS Cervical Screening Management System

The new NHS Cervical Screening Management System is scheduled to go live in October. We are harnessing technology and data to help our NHS improve and provide better care. We anticipate there will be many benefits for both staff working in cervical screening services and screening participants alike when it is live.

The new system will have an improved look and feel, making it much simpler to use. The new interface - which you can see in the image below on the right (real data has not been included) will replace outdated technology, and make it easier to access and use screening participants’ information.

The quality of the data will also improve. Currently, the cervical screening system uses data from around 80 different databases. The new NHS Cervical Screening Management System will link into the NHS Personal Demographics Service (PDS) and provide a single source of national patient demographic information. Having a single source of data will help ensure we have up to date details, including address information, and reduce potential delays to screening participants receiving important correspondence.

Turning our attention to breast screening

Once we have launched the NHS Cervical Screening Management System, we will turn our attention to the rest of the programme. Our ambition is to transform the IT system behind each and every screening service. In 2022 we will start with breast screening, as the programme which will benefit most from IT modernisation. But we have our eyes on the national offer: we are designing capabilities for breast screening that will apply across all programmes.

We are passionate about engaging people in screening in a way that best works for them. Professor Sir Mike Richards’ ambition is that every screening programme should allow patients to manage their screening appointments online, that text message appointment reminders should be routine, that we can identify where any given person is in their screening journey at any given time, and that records should move easily with the patient. This is as important for immunisation services and, in fact, more straightforward for participants if systems are synchronised and can be navigated in similar ways. We will design national capabilities that allow all screening and immunisation participants to benefit from more up-to-date forms of engagement, maximising value as we do so.

What’s next?

Last year we held joint supplier events with techUK. We have since completed a deep dive discovery into national capabilities and value for money. By the end of 2021 we will have conducted a market engagement exercise in which we can share detailed plans of our preferred architectural approach for use across screening pathways.

Our critical next step comes this autumn when we switch the cervical screening programme over to its new, safer home.

For more information about preparing for the switchover to the new NHS Cervical Screening Management System please visit the NHS Digital website.