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NHS launches tool to improve bowel cancer screening for people with sight loss

Posted on May 16th, 2024

NHS launches tool to improve bowel cancer screening for people with sight loss

Thousands of people with sight loss in England will find it easier to participate in life-saving bowel cancer screening thanks to a new specially designed NHS tool.

People who are blind or partially sighted will be offered a specially designed tool to support them complete faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit, which can detect signs of bowel cancer.

The FIT aid tool is an adaptation which makes the standard FIT test more accessible with a channel that enables the sample to be guided into the bottle, as well as a stand that holds FIT tube steady to help those with manual dexterity issues. It includes options for braille instructions, an audio CD or a link to audio and video instructions.

NHS England worked closely with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Thomas Pocklington Trust who helped test the design and instructions with a cohort of people with sight loss, alongside the FIT kit supplier Mast Group Ltd.

During the six-month pilot, around 500 people with sight loss will be sent the FIT aid tool to help them complete the test.

If successful, it may be rolled out initially to thousands more people to help improve the accessibility and uptake of bowel cancer screening, whilst reducing healthcare inequalities.

Under the NHS cancer screening programme, FIT kits are posted to people when they are eligible and completed at home by putting a poo sample in a small tube and returning it by post to the NHS for testing.

Since April 2019, when the NHS started using FIT kits, national uptake has increased from 59.2% to 67.8%, enabling more cancers to be detected early.

Data shows the number of NHS checks for bowel and other cancers have topped three million in a year for the first time – more than doubling in the last decade.

Early detection of bowel cancer, the third most common type of cancer in England, can significantly improve treatment outcomes.

Steve Russell, National Director for Vaccinations and Screening at NHS England said: “This  tool will enable more people with accessibility issues to complete their FIT kits and ensure we continue to diagnose cancers earlier when it is easier to treat them – potentially saving thousands of lives.

“Our partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Thomas Pocklington Trust, and Mast has been instrumental in developing this tool and is a good example of how the health service is committed to tackling health inequalities for the benefit of all patients”.

Minister for Health and Secondary Care Andrew Stephenson said: “The FIT kit offers people a chance to quickly and safely test for signs of possible bowel cancer at home, so I am delighted that this new tool will make the screening programme more accessible to thousands of people who are blind or partially sighted. By enabling cases of bowel cancer to be spotted earlier in more people, it will help the NHS to save lives from a serious condition that kills more than 14,000 people every year in England.”

Under the NHS Cancer Screening Programme, a FIT kit is made available to everyone aged 54 to 74 and is expanding to include all over 50s.

Screening is offered every two years, and approximately 2 out of 100 people will require further tests after using their FIT kit.

One person who is supporting the NHS’s FIT aid trial is Terry, 70 years-old from Newcastle. Terry is one of the volunteers with sight loss who have helped the NHS and its partners to develop the tool.

Terry said: “I’ve been sent bowel screening kits to do at home before, but I found them really tricky to do as it was a real struggle to put my sample into the tube without asking for help.

“I was sent the FIT aid with my latest testing kit and it was a great improvement on the earlier versions. It was very easy to use with simple accessible instructions. Anyone with sight loss will be able to complete the test themselves. That can only be good news as more people will do the test meaning there’s a better chance of catching anything wrong much quicker”.

Khadija Raza, Policy Officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People said: “Undergoing health screening can be a stressful time for anyone, but particularly when you have sight loss and face the added anxiety of not knowing if the test will be fully accessible or not.

“Blind and partially sighted people have the right to manage their health with the same level of independence, privacy and dignity as sighted people. The FIT tool will address one of these barriers. We look forward to working closely with NHS England to ensure all bowel screening information is provided consistently in required formats, such as braille, large print and audio”.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK said: “We welcome the testing of the FIT aid tool which should go some way to tackling one of the barriers to bowel cancer screening for people with sight loss, and we look forward to the outcome of the evaluation phase.

“The earlier bowel cancer is diagnosed, the more treatable it is likely to be and screening is one of the best ways to detect the disease at its earliest stages. However, we know there are inequalities across the country and across different groups when it comes to taking part in screening which we must tackle”.

Charles Colquhoun, CEO, Thomas Pocklington Trust said: “The ideal for blind and partially sighted people is to see accessibility designed in as early as possible to all NHS services including screening and medical tests, such as the FIT aid home test kit for bowel cancer screening”.

Cancer Research UK’s Director of Evidence and Implementation Naser Turabi said: “Early diagnosis saves lives, and screening is a proven way of catching bowel cancer sooner. But there are also barriers to using the FIT test. We support this move by NHS England to trial an adapted FIT test to support people who are blind and partially sighted.

“To ensure the FIT aid tool reaches those who need it most, it’s important that GP records on reasonable adjustments are up to date and accurate. We look forward to seeing the results of the evaluation and hope this pilot helps more people access and benefit from lifesaving bowel screening”.

Emily George, Product Specialist (FIT) at Mast Group Ltd. said: “Mast Group Ltd. is proud to have designed and manufactured the patent-pending FIT aid, a pioneering device to make FIT testing more accessible and reduce inequalities.  We are grateful for the contributions from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Thomas Pocklington Trust and the NHS England Bowel Screening Programme who have been invaluable to the development of the FIT aid and its continued evolution as part of the in service evaluation”.

For those aged 75 and over, FIT kits can be requested by phoning the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

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