iPLATO has today announced that it has been awarded a £1.7 million research contract by Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) Healthcare, to improve bowel cancer screening rates across South East London.

The programme will address health inequalities by focusing on groups known to be less engaged with screening, forming a blueprint for potential national adoption.

It will be delivered in partnership with the South East London Cancer Alliance (SELCA) and local community leaders, academics, and primary care professionals. The programme will seek to establish the optimal communication channels and content to engage hard-to-reach groups using iPLATO’s platform, which will provide tailored education through mobile messaging, ensuring scalability and privacy.

The NHS distributes free Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kits to people aged 60 to 74 in England who are registered with a GP practice. Age eligibility is currently being lowered to include people from 50.

Tobias Alpsten, founder and CEO of iPLATO, which was acquired by Huma in early 2022, said: “Digital technologies hold great promise for making cancer screening and care accessible to everyone, and to reduce health inequities they must be developed in collaboration with the people they serve.

“This ground-breaking initiative will deliver better access to bowel cancer identification and preventative care measures for many vulnerable patients.”

Pre-Covid, the return rate of FIT kits was 56% in South East London against a national target of 75%. Some groups have persistently lower uptake than the rest of the population, including non-white people, those for whom English isn’t their first language, people with a severe mental health condition, and those with learning disabilities.

“Screening is a vital public health strategy for the early identification of cancers because it enables more timely access to treatment, which can improve clinical outcomes and survival,” said Huma’s cancer lead and oncologist Dr Simon Chowdhury.

“We could not have put together a project of this scale aimed at benefiting hard-to-reach groups without the partnership of SELCA and lay partners, and we believe this work will be relevant in other parts of the country and for other screening programmes.”