NHS England has announced a major overhaul of national cancer screening programmes as part of a renewed drive to improve care and save lives.

The news comes as it is revealed that more than 40,000 women in England have not received information regarding cervical cancer screening after a failure to send out letters by the NHS.

The programme will be led by Professor Sir Mike Richards and the aim is increase early detection of cancers when they are easier to treat and make sure patients benefit from new technologies and treatments.

Sir Mike, who was the NHS’ first cancer director and is the former CQC chief inspector of hospitals, will lead a review team to assess current screening programmes and recommend how they should be organised, developed and improved.

The review will look at how latest innovations can be utilised, including the potential use of artificial intelligence, integrating research and encourage more eligible people to be screened. It will also look to learn lessons from recent issues around breast and cervical screening.

As part of the process, the review will advise NHS England and Public Health England on the best operational delivery model for current screening programmes, including possible changes to currently outsourced provision.

Professor Sir Mike 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.”

Professor Paul Cosford, Public Health England Medical Director, said: “The NHS’s world-leading cancer screening programmes are a key early intervention that saves lives, and Sir Mike Richards is uniquely well placed to advise on how we improve it for the 21st century.”

Screening can help spot problems early before a person has any symptoms, when cancer is often easier to treat. In some cases it can even prevent cancers from developing in the first place, by spotting people at risk.

There are three national cancer screening programmes in England.

  • Cervical screening – offered to women aged 25 to 64, with screening offered every three years for women aged up to 49 and every five years from 50 to 64.
  • Breast screening – offered to women aged 50 to 70, with women over 70 able to self-refer for screening.
  • Bowel screening – offered to men and women aged 60 to 74, and another bowel screening test offered to men and women at the age of 55 in some parts of England.

The review, which is expected to report by summer 2019, will assess the strengths and weakness of the current cancer screening programmes, making recommendations on a number of areas.