The NHS bowel screening pilot and the programme since then

Research in 4 countries has demonstrated a reduction in death rates in groups of people screened for bowel cancer. This research led the UK government to commission a pilot programme to see whether or not it was feasible to use biennial (every 2 years) faecal occult blood test screening as a population screening tool for bowel cancer in the UK.

In England the pilot programme started in 2000 in Coventry and north Warwickshire, and was based in Rugby. The pilot programme finished in March 2007 and showed that screening for bowel cancer using the faecal occult blood test was feasible in the NHS. Screening is now offered every 2 years to men and women registered with a GP aged 60–74 (also see What is the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme?). People aged 74 and over can request screening by calling the programme helpline on Freephone 0800 707 60 60.

Some of the people we interviewed about screening had taken part in the English pilot programme.

She thought the pilot programme was part of a trial.

Age at interview 62

Gender Female

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Sir Muir Gray explains that the health professionals running the pilot programme provided an…

Age at interview 49

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Sir Muir Gray is the former programme director of the UK National Screening Committee.

In England the screening programme is administered by regional offices, called programme ‘hubs’. The hubs send out the invitations to people to take part in screening every 2 years. They also send out test kits, test results, and arrange appointments with specialist screening practitioners at local screening centres for those with abnormal test results.

The health professionals working in the local screening centres provide investigations for bowel cancer (such as colonoscopy and bowel scope screening), and any necessary follow-up investigations. If treatment is needed for bowel cancer they refer patients to a named consultant.

There are 5 regional hubs and over 60 screening centres.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme started being rolled out in July 2006 and achieved nationwide coverage in 2010.