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More than 1.25m women waited too long for cervical screening results, damning report finds

More than 1.25 million women waited too long to receive results for cervical cancer screenings last year, causing unnecessary stress to patients, a report by MPs has found.

A report published from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was critical of NHS England, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for their inability to quickly screen people for diseases like bowel and cervical cancer.

Officials have been accused of overseeing failing IT systems, some which have been ongoing since 2011, while other systems are unable to track people who are eligible for test.

NHS bosses have been accused of losing their grip on cancer screening. Credit: PA

The report also found there were huge differences in geographical regions.

As part of their report, MPs reviewed bowel, breast and cervical screening and screening for a condition called abdominal aortic aneurism.

NHS Digital figures 2017/18 analysed by PA found six in 10 women in some parts of England waited longer than three weeks for results after having their smear test.

This is despite NHS England claiming 98 per cent of all patients should receive test results within two weeks.

In particularly bad performing areas, six out 10 women (58.7%) in the East Midlands waited longer than three weeks, as did 43.5% in East England.

Nationwide, 23% waited longer than three weeks for cervical test results, with 18.4% waiting between two and three weeks.

Overall, 58.6% received results within the recommended two weeks.

Just 72.1% of eligible women in England were screened for breast cancer. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA

In terms of numbers, 1,791,871 women in England received results within two weeks but a further 562,003 waited two to three weeks and 703,179 more waited over three weeks.

The report by MPs concluded: "This delay is unacceptable and the impact of the undue stress and worry for women must be recognised.”

In a statement, the Department for Health said the two-week wait time was a "customer service ambition" rather than a clinical need, however the report said this was not communicated to patients.

"NHS England told us that some local providers currently have staff shortages, but as this target has not been met since November 2015, it is clear to us that NHS England is not managing local providers effectively,” MPs said.

Of the eligible women in England, just 71.4% underwent cervical screen, despite the target being 80%. Just 72.1% were screened for breast cancer.

In 2017/18, bowel screening achieved coverage of 59.6% against a target of 60% but a new bowel scope test had only reached a third of the intended population by last September.

MPs said they were worried about regional issues with screening coverage, saying: “There is also an overwhelming lack of understanding about local variation: the national health bodies do not know and could not tell us why performance is good in some areas and so poor in others.”

In 2017/18, bowel screening achieved coverage of 59.6% against a target of 60%. Credit: PA

PAC chairwoman and Labour MP Meg Hillier said: “Our inquiry has exposed a health service that is losing its grip on health screening programmes."

Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “These delays are unacceptable and thousands of patients will have been left waiting in anxiety as a result.”

Mr Ashworth said: “It’s clear that services are underfunded, under-resourced and can’t keep pace with demand."

A DHSC spokesman said: “Eleven million people benefit from the NHS’s world class screening programmes every year, and record numbers of people are receiving lifesaving NHS treatment.

“Although we await further recommendations from the Sir Mike Richards review of national screening programmes, we are pushing ahead with important changes to help detect as many cancers as early as possible.

“Under the Long Term Plan for the NHS – backed by an extra £33.9bn a year by 2023/24 – patients with suspected cancer are beginning to receive a diagnosis or the all clear within 28 days, and the NHS in England is investing £200 million to fund new ways to rapidly detect and treat cancer.”