The HSE National Screening Service (NSS) in Ireland runs three national cancer screening programmes, for breast, bowel, and cervical cancer. About 1,000,000 people are eligible to take part in one of the three programmes each year, an impressive figure for a population of 5,000,000.

One of the most rewarding areas I’m involved with is in preventative health services and we were thrilled to support Ireland’s Bowel Cancer Awareness month in April, with the launch of a new patient experience programme for men and women aged 60-69, who are screened for bowel cancer.

Many people get excited about new drugs or new hospitals or fabulous new equipment, but systematically preventing illness is the only way our health systems are going to survive the tidal wave of demand from growing and ageing populations.

The evidence is clear. Early detection for bowel cancer is key to effective treatment and the highest rates of recovery. Over 1,000 people die from bowel cancer each year in Ireland, often diagnosed in later stages. However, if the cancer is found before it spreads, (stage I and II) the 5-year relative survival rate is typically around 90%.  However, only about 4 out of 10 bowel cancers are currently found at this early stage.

Dr Alan Smith, Consultant in Public Health Medicine – NSS Population Screening Service, Ireland, states that the target is to get more people currently offered a screening test, to take it up. As the newest of the cancer screening programmes in Ireland, we would ideally like to see bowel screening participation rise from the current 45% to the impressive levels currently being achieved in breast and cervical cancer screening.

“People’s experience of our screening services is important. Firstly, this can be a stressful time for people, so as a screening service we want to make it as simple, reassuring, and effortless as possible. But, we also want to create advocates for screening. If everyone who goes through the screening service talks to their friends and reassures them, we’ll start building participation rates at pace” explains Dr Smith.

“I doubt there is any part of the health service in Ireland that doesn’t understand the importance of involving patients in service design to drive quality improvement. What our proof of concept with Cemplicity will do, is demonstrate how people’s feedback can be used in a systematic and continuous approach. Central to this is that feedback is gathered and reported in real-time so that we aren’t waiting months to know where our communication, processes or clinic experiences can be improved.”

Read more about the programme here.

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