Outdated and unsafe IT systems are “jeopardising” patient care, cancer charities have said as they called for greater investment in technology.

Responding to Professor Sir Mike Richards’ review into national screening programmes, charities welcomed the commitment from NSHX to make screening IT systems one of its flagship programmes but called for the reports recommendations to be put in place “as soon as possible”.

The review found cancer screening IT systems “cannot support the safe running of programmes” and need to be upgraded “urgently”.

Sir Mike said the systems sat in an “over-complicated landscape” that hindered their delivery, ultimately contributing to worryingly low screening uptake across the country.

Breast and cervical screening programmes were deemed the least effective.

Cancer Research UK’s head of early diagnosis Dr Jodie Moffat told Digital Health News: “Lots of the IT used in screening isn’t fit for purpose, jeopardising quality of care and making it harder to provide tailored information and services to people with different needs.

“It’s good to know that NHSX are working on IT upgrades to support programmes now and in future, and we look forward to seeing more detailed plans of what will be delivered and when.”

Her comments were echoed by Sara Him, the charities director of early diagnosis, who added: “A lack of funding has led to an archaic NHS infrastructure – especially IT systems – making it virtually impossible to optimise our country’s screening programmes.

“The Department of Health and Social Care must take urgent action to ensure the review’s recommendations are implemented so that no lives are needlessly lost to cancer. This includes ensuring the NHS has the investment it needs to train and recruit staff who support screening programmes and help diagnose cancer early.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, called for “investment and a sustained focus on screening”.

“With more women being diagnosed with breast cancer, we need to invest in new technology, IT infrastructure, and in recruiting and training new experts, to enable NHS services to cope with increasing demand over the next decade.”

Sir Mike’s recommendations for IT and equipment

  1. NHSX should set out a roadmap for the delivery of new targeted and population screening IT systems as soon as possible, with a primary focus on the challenges with cervical and breast screening programmes and with regular reports on progress provided to DHSC and NHSE
  2. This review recommends that the development of screening IT systems should include a necessary focus on the functionality needed to support improvements in uptake and coverage of screening and take into account the specific needs of population and targeted screening approaches
  3. A dedicated capital fund or similar approach to support the purchasing of screening equipment and facilities should be established to replace old equipment and meet future activity increases, given the competing priorities for capital allocation in the system

Several charities, including Breast Cancer Now, called for screening invitations to be integrated with GP records and faster access to new technologies when Sir Mike’s interim report was released in March.

Calls for better access to diagnostics for GPs

Last week, a landmark survey revealed thousands of women were experiencing “avoidable” delays in being diagnosed with the return and spread of breast cancer, with 24% of women previously diagnosed with the disease having to visit their GP three or more times before their second diagnosis.

The survey, conducted by Breast Cancer Now, also found 41% of patients with secondary breast cancer felt their symptoms were not taken seriously.

In response, the charity called for better support for GPs, such as online training, and for alerts of the red-flag symptoms of secondary breast cancer to be included and used in all GPs’ IT software.

Baroness Morgan said: “It’s absolutely vital we do all we can to ensure people get the appropriate diagnosis and support they need sooner. It is clear we need to provide better support to GPs and do much more to raise awareness of what secondary breast cancer is.”

Dr Moffat added: “GPs have to be supported so that they can provide the best possible care to their patients – and that means ensuring they can access diagnostic tests and reports without delay.

“We know that diagnostic services are under pressure, and it’s vital that the Government invests in training and employing the staff needed to diagnose and treat cancer today and in the future.”

The Royal College of GPs also called for GPs to have better access to the right diagnostic tools, but was unable to provide further comment.