A simple text message reminder could save thousands of lives by helping 780,000 more patients attend a cancer screening appointment over the next 12 months, according to a new health campaign.

There are fears of a cancer timebomb after the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a dramatic decrease in diagnoses due to the pause put on the screening programmes.

With it being more important than ever to encourage patients to attend a screening, a new campaign has been launched to call for centralised SMS reminders across all national cancer screening programmes.

Currently, just a third (34 per cent) of practices can ensure their patients receive a text message reminder alongside the traditional screening invite letter.

And according to Sir Mike Richards’ independent review of adult screening services in England, out of the 15 million adults across England who are invited for a free NHS screening, approximately 10 million patients attend.

If all practices were able to sign-up to the centralised SMS reminder service, there would be an estimated increase in uptake of 5.2 per cent – or approximately 780,000 more patients attending screenings, based on the research.

In every 100 cancer screenings, at least one abnormality is detected. It is estimated the increased uptake achieved by the simple SMS reminder could result in potentially 7,800 lives being saved each year.

The ‘Remind Us’ campaign has been launched by ‘myGP’, the NHS-approved healthcare management and GP appointment booking app and is backed by a number of cancer charities and high-profile experts.

Professor Michael Lewis, Head of Life Science Innovation at the University of Birmingham, said: “There are now several conclusive research papers that reveal the power of sending an SMS reminder to book or attend a screening appointment.

“This information cannot be ignored. I, for one, have lost too many family members to cancer, to stand-by and not act upon this knowledge.

“Often the most basic technologies can be overlooked, but the research means there’s no reason for NHSX to ignore this call for change.

“The cost of sending SMS messages to patients is very small, compared to the thousands of pounds required to treat cancer that hasn’t been detected early enough.”

Ivo Vlaev, Professor of Behaviour Science at Warwick Business School and one of the research fellows behind the UK’s first cervical cancer screening SMS study, added: “I spent a number of years looking into the benefits of interventions such as messages and SMS reminders to increase uptake of screening attendance, and I know that this easy-to-implement method can dramatically improve cancer survival rates in this country.

“The fact that one text can increase uptake in cervical screening appointments by almost five per cent, to me is a no brainer, and I whole-heartedly support this campaign to introduce these reminders nationally.

“I would ask all my friends, colleagues and the public to support this campaign – receiving one letter invitation for cancer screenings isn’t enough.”

Today, around 85 per cent of adult patients have given consent to receive SMS communication from their GP surgery, which confirms the desirability of SMS as a communication medium.

The cost of sending two centralised SMS screening reminders to each eligible patient is approximately £2.5 million annually, on average, for each type of cancer screening – breast, cervical, and bowel.

When comparing the small investment in sending SMS messages to the investment required to treat cervical cancer — which can vary from £1,300 – £19,000 per patient — the economic advantages are clear.

The current disparity between local authorities’ cancer screening rates is concerning.

In London, just 53 per cent of eligible patients attend the three main cancer screening programmes.

In Manchester, this number rises to 60 per cent, while Leicester (62 per cent), Birmingham (63 per cent) and Southampton and Liverpool (both 64.8 per cent) all struggle.

Abby Morris, founder of The Bowel Movement campaign set up the charity after her brother lost his life, aged 32, to the illness, said: “Early detection and diagnosis for bowel cancer has a significant impact on the likelihood of whether an individual will have a successful response to treatment and will survive more than five years following their diagnosis.

“Cancer screenings have dropped by around 80 per cent during the pandemic which has had a drastic impact on the ability to detect and diagnose individuals with bowel cancer, with many people not wishing to burden the NHS during this time.

“This timely campaign is therefore crucial for boosting uptake and attendance at vital screening appointments.”

To raise awareness of the importance of attending cancer screenings, and to promote the new campaign, myGP has launched a #RemindUs social media campaign, whereby people can tag the people they are closest to, whilst including the #remindus hashtag to raise awareness of the importance of attending cancer screening appointments.

More information on the campaign – https://www.mygp.com/remind-us


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