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Cervical screening text message service may boost uptake by 25,000, claims NHS England

A new text messaging service to promote attendance to cervical screening appointments has been commissioned by NHS England and Public Health England.

The text reminder scheme will be used across all 32 London CCGs, with rollout starting in August.

NHS England has said this could results in an additional 25,000 women attending screenings over the next year, meaning ‘earlier detection and more lives being saved’.

The technology is being run by iPlato Healthcare, a company that NHS England has previously funded to the tune of £1m for an app which redirects patients seeking GP appointments to alternative services.

This new scheme comes after PHE expressed concern for falling cervical cancer screening uptake numbers.

According to iPlato, opportunities for screening are being missed because women are forgetting to schedule an appointment.

But research has demonstrated the effectiveness of text messages in promoting attendance of screening appointments.

The company ran a pilot study of its service in 2015, as published in The Lancet, which saw a 3.7% increase in uptake between patients receiving no text message reminder and those who did.

However the research also saw that a GP endorsement was more effective than a text reminder for increasing uptake.

PHE London regional director Dr Yvonne Doyle, said: ‘We know that cervical screening reduces cancer deaths, so it is important to utilise technology in order to reach the maximum number of people. This new reminder service is a welcome step towards increasing uptake in London.

‘We are committed to improving cervical screening attendance, particularly among younger women, and we hope the text message service will encourage women across the capital to make and keep these vital appointments.’

And NHS England London cancer screening lead Dr Josephine Ruwende said: ‘95% of people in the UK have mobile phones, so it makes sense to use this technology to send women reminders via text.

‘This technology could lead to an additional 25,000 women in London participating in screening in the next 12 months, which will lead to earlier detection and more lives being saved.’

The service has initially been commissioned for one year, with the opportunity for an extension of up to three years depending on the results.

Earlier this year, PHE reported that only one CCG met the 80% cervical cancer screening target for under 50s, with NHS Central London CCG seeing just over half of the eligible women screened within the timeframe.