On Wednesday 9 December 2015 our Policy Officer, Louise, attended the first ever UK National Screening Committee conference. The UK NSC is the body that makes recommendations to the government on whether a population screening programme should be implemented, based on the scientific rigour, acceptability, feasibility and cost effectiveness.
The title of the conference was “Delivering world-class recommendations”, and the event provided an excellent introduction into the UK NSC’s work for all those present. Stakeholders included a wide range of patient groups, some who have been in contact with the UK NSC for many years, and some who have only recently started to work with them on issues around screening.
The morning was devoted to exploring how the UK NSC reaches its decisions on whether or not to recommend a screening programme, and the challenges and complications they face in doing so. This was discussed in the context of three recommendations that have been made in the last year, regarding possible screening programmes for atrial fibrillation and bacterial vaginosis, and the expansion of the newborn bloodspot screening programme.
In the afternoon we heard from two academics who collaborate with the UK NSC, providing research to gather the evidence used by the committee to make their recommendations. I particularly appreciated the acknowledgement of how the UK NSC’s very high evidence threshold does not always work well for rare conditions.
The conference formed part of a welcome movement in the direction of increased transparency by the UK NSC, and it was clear that the committee have taken on board some of the recommendations of last year’s internal and parliamentary review to make their processes more accessible to stakeholders.
One new development which may help achieve greater transparency is the proposed introduction of an annual call for proposals, the first of which is likely to take place in September 2016 (see the guidance here). However, it will be important for the triaging and prioritisation process to be fair and transparent, and for patient groups not to be required to have carried out substantial research for a proposal to be considered.
If you have any questions or comments about this work please contact our Policy Officer, Louise.