New partnership aims to increase uptake of cervical screening

An initiative to increase public uptake of cervical screening is underway following a collaboration between West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance and patient engagement service Appt Health.

The project takes a behavioural approach, encouraging people from groups where uptake is lower, to attend cervical screening – assisted by digital technology.

The partnership with Appt Health aims to address the fact that less than a handful of GP practices achieve the 80% target of eligible patients attending cervical screening appointments, which identify early signs of cancer, in West Yorkshire and the country more widely. This means more people are developing life threatening cancers at a late stage than is necessary.

The problem worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when clinical capacity in most GP practices was constrained and many eligible patients delayed screening due to lockdowns and other pandemic-related concerns.

Appt Health, a social enterprise, has developed an effective way of helping patients to book and attend preventative healthcare appointments like cervical screening.

This service targets individuals with the most effective invitation, meaning they are more likely to book and attend screening. Previous trials suggest this approach is up to 40% more effective than other ways of engaging patients.

Appt Health is working with Imperial College London to carry out research with high priority patient groups. They aim to design better, patient-centred invitation strategies that are more effective for target populations.

West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance has successful local innovation programmes championing and supporting innovation to transform the diagnosis, treatment and care for cancer patients in the region. This includes a local annual innovation competition in which more than £1.7m worth of funding is awarded to projects that promote early cancer diagnosis and better care.

Helen Ryan, Innovation Manager at WY&HCA said: “Overall, we do our best work when we create new opportunities for collaboration and innovation which were not previously thought to exist.

“It is important to increase screening uptake so that more of these cases are found early on and treated and we are very excited about our work with Appt Health.”

Hayley Snowden, Health Inequalities Programme Manager for WY&HCA, said: “Health inequalities have played a major role in underperformance of cervical smear uptake.

“Several factors affect an eligible individual’s likelihood of taking up cervical screening and many of these factors are associated with health inequality. We are hopeful that this project will help to improve equity of access in our region.”

Hector Smethurst founder and CEO of Appt Health explained: “Effective patient engagement is the first side of the problem. Behavioural science tells us that for any behaviour to take place, an individual must have the motivation and the ability to perform this behaviour, and they must have a trigger or call-to-action indicating that it is time to perform the behaviour.

“The under-performance of the cervical screening programme demonstrates that many patients do not receive what they need, from a behavioural point of view, to take up cervical screening.

“The second side of the problem is a care delivery problem. GP practices need the tools and resources to administrate and deliver the cervical screening programme effectively and sustainably.

“These problems remain: many practices report the call and recall process for non-responders to be expensive and ineffective, making high performance out of reach for most practices. We believe that Appt Health’s approach can contribute to improved performance of the cervical screening programme, and improved health outcomes for the residents of West Yorkshire.”

Learn more about West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance and their impact here.

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