The NHS will eliminate cervical cancer in England by 2040, the head of the health service has pledged.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS England chief executive, today (15 November) outlined how the organisation will improve the availability of vaccines and screenings to meet this ambitious goal in the next 17 years.
“To eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement”
The plans were laid out at NHS Providers’ annual conference. Ms Pritchard said the target could be met, if outreach and the ease of access to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations were improved, in particular.
Ms Pritchard said: “It is truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition today – to eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement and through a combination of our HPV vaccination programme, and our highly-effective cervical screening programme, it could become a reality in in the next two decades.”
According to the new plans, nurses, and other clinical professionals, will be “supported” to identify those who need the vaccine most via outreach programmes and offering it in “more convenient settings”.
The vaccine protects against HPV, which causes up to 99% of cervical cancers, and local health organisations will be able to offer them in libraries, community centres, sports facilities and leisure centres.
This, Ms Pritchard hoped, would go alongside an expansion of other public health offers in these settings such as blood pressure tests and other routine vaccinations.
Alongside this, the NHS will allow anyone to access their full vaccination record and book vaccination appointments on the NHS app, which currently more than 30 million people have access to, in the “coming months and years”.
As well as vaccinations, Ms Pritchard said screenings were a crucial pillar of the 2040 goal.
The NHS runs a routine cervical screening programme for women aged 25 and 64 to help spot early signs of cancer.
However, currently, a third of women do not accept offers for cervical screenings when invited. Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said this would be a “risk” to the plan, and that it would be important to increase the acceptance rate, as well as the invitation numbers.
All this together aims to bring the incidence rate below four per 100,000 women, which is the World Health Organization (WHO) standard for eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem.
“Vaccination and screening are the key tools which mean we are one step closer to achieving this and the NHS is already making it easier than ever before for people to protect themselves and their families,” continued Ms Pritchard.
“Whether it’s through community outreach in areas of lower uptake or expanding the NHS app so that everyone has their vaccine history and booking options in the palm of their hand.
“As ever, the public can play their part by coming forward for their vaccines and screening appointments when invited.
“This target aligns with trust leaders’ commitment to improving patient outcomes and cancer care”
“To achieve our goal of eliminating cervical cancer, we need as many people as possible to take up the offer, so please don’t delay – it could save your life.”
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, welcomed Ms Pritchard’s setting of the 2040 goal for NHS England.
Screenings and vaccinations are often performed by nurses in public health or primary care settings.
Ms Deakin said that for Ms Pritchard’s plan to work, the resources must match the ambition.
She said: “Ensuring healthcare staff have the resources and training needed to effectively implement these plans is crucial for success.
“This target aligns with trust leaders’ commitment to improving patient outcomes and cancer care.
“The integration of innovative strategies such as targeted outreach, the expansion of vaccine services into community settings and the use of technology like the NHS App demonstrates a forward-thinking approach to healthcare.
“These measures not only aim to improve accessibility but also ensure that health services are more responsive to the needs of diverse communities.”
Ms Deakin added that education and public awareness of the importance of vaccinations would be “vital”.