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Ministers will never give up unofficial screening



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In October last year, I wrote an editorial titled ‘NHS managers are complicit in stoking up demand’. Unfortunately, in the almost six months since, my belief in this has become intensified.

As our analysis today shows, the NHS long-term plan and the GP contract are full of unevidenced unofficial screening programmes. Take the contract’s hints around AF case funding – a new CVD national prevention audit for primary care is being designed partly to address ‘undetected and under-treated’ atrial fibrillation.

When something sounds great politically, sober scientific judgements tend to take a back seat

Or the long-term plan’s announcement that CT scans will be offered for lung cancer in perceived high risk groups. On a similar vein, there is also a commitment for direct access to cancer diagnostics for people with red-flag symptoms.

GPs know that the inherent problems in this. That there are downsides to screening. They can cause harm and may well be an inefficient use of resources. The National Screening Committee is in place to make these sober judgements.

The problem is that – to the public and, more importantly, ministers – these sound great. What politician would argue against identifying more patients with FH or patients being allowed to refer themselves for cancer diagnostics?

And when something sounds great politically, sober scientific judgements tend to take a back seat.

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. You can follow him on Twitter @jkaffash