Digital inclusion project prompts breast screening increase

An NHS project using social media to boost digital inclusion has led to a 13 per cent increase in first time attendances for breast screening in Stoke-on-Trent over four years.

The initiative, part of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, encouraged information about screening to be posted on Facebook community groups, empowering women to make appointments by reducing their anxiety around breast examinations. This included information such as patients explaining about how the screening process works and how it has affected them, and videos showing the rooms where it takes place. Posts were designed to encourage women to share them and so spread the message about the benefits and importance of screening.

The drive also saw women able to communicate with with health practitioners with more speed and ease, to ask questions about the screening process.

Attendances for breast screening nationally is in decline and most recent figures, from 2016-17, show the proportion of eligible women taking up breast screening in England fell to its lowest rate in 10 years. However, data on attendances for first time appointments at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service shows they increased by an average of 12.9 per cent between three-year screening cycles from 2014 to 2018, as a result of the social media promotion.

Gina Newman, Health Improvement Practitioner at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service, said: “This is a fantastic idea and the community aspect of the group is so powerful that we now have 1,138 followers. We have seen an increase in the number of ladies who have booked and attended their appointments, who might not have done otherwise. It’s great to see the members supporting one another through their own journeys and sharing the page further with their family and friends.”

Juliet Bauer, Chief Digital Officer at NHS England, added: “The Stoke project is an example of how digital channels can be used to communicate with patients, providing local advice and answer key concerns. This work is part of the NHS’s wider commitment to digitally transform the way we work with all of our patients, improving the information we provide and empowering the public to take charge of their own health and care.”

In total, 20 digital inclusion pathfinders are being run across the country in partnership with the charity Good Things Foundation to test new ways to help people access digital tools to improve their health.

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