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NHS plans to eliminate cervical cancer in England by 2040

The NHS aims to set out plans to improve access to HPV vaccination appointments and maximise cervical screening uptake

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The NHS has pledged to eliminate cervical cancer in England by 2040, in a move that could save thousands of lives.

Speaking at NHS Providers’ annual conference, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard has outlined how the health service can achieve the goal for elimination by making it as easy as possible for people to get the lifesaving HPV vaccination and increasing cervical screening uptake.

England is among the first countries in the world to set this elimination ambition within the next two decades. The World Health Organisation considers cervical cancer to be eliminated as a public health problem when there is an incidence rate lower than four per 100,000 women.

As part of new plans to put the NHS one step closer to eliminating the HPV virus, which causes up to 99 per cent of cervical cancers, Pritchard said health professionals will be supported to identify those who most need the vaccine.

The NHS will also set out plans to improve access to online vaccination appointments nationally, with millions more people able to view their full vaccination record and book vaccines on the NHS App over the coming months.

Vaccinations, Pritchard said, will become part of a “one-stop shop”, with NHS staff set to expand the offer of blood pressure tests and other health checks and advice, alongside routine vaccinations.

The HPV vaccine prevents invasive strains of the virus, known to cause almost all cervical cancers, as well as some mouth and throat cancers. It is given to both girls and boys in secondary school to protect them against catching the HPV infection and developing into pre-cancerous and cancer cells.

To eliminate cervical cancer by 2040, the NHS needs to ensure as many people as possible are being vaccinated against HPV, while also coming forward for cervical screening.

Pritchard said: “It is truly momentous to be able to set out such an important, life-saving ambition. To eliminate cervical cancer would be an incredible achievement and through a combination of our HPV vaccination programme and our highly-effective cervical screening programme, it could become a reality in in the next two decades.

“Vaccination and screening are the key tools which mean we are one step closer to achieving this and the NHS is already making it easier than ever before for people to protect themselves and their families – whether it’s through community outreach in areas of lower uptake or expanding the NHS app so that everyone has their vaccine history and booking options in the palm of their hand.

“As ever, the public can play their part by coming forward for their vaccines and screening appointments when invited – to achieve our goal of eliminating cervical cancer, we need as many people as possible to take up the offer, so please don’t delay – it could save your life.”

Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year, but the NHS screening programme helps save around 5,000 lives each year.

NHS screening helps prevent cervical cancer by using a test to check for high-risk HPV which may cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix. These abnormal cells can, over time, turn into cancer if left untreated.

The NHS is inviting more people than ever before for cervical screening, while self-sampling will be trialled to determine if it could be introduced as part of national screening.

Steve Russell, chief delivery officer and national director for vaccinations and screening for NHS England, said: “Vaccination and screening are some of the most powerful tools we have for preventing disease and for keeping people from becoming unwell.

“We have learnt invaluable lessons from the pandemic, with our hugely successful Covid-19 vaccine programme saving thousands of lives, and our vision for the future of vaccination draws on those learnings, with plans to educate millions more people on the importance of vaccination, while making it easier than ever before to access vaccines online.”

Through routine and post-pandemic catch-up programmes, by school age year 10, 86 per cent of girls and 81 per cent of boys received one dose of the HPV vaccine, with studies suggesting the vaccine programme has prevented around 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers.

Following the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the NHS recently updated its HPV vaccination programme to single dose instead of two doses for under 25s.

This move will make it more convenient for young people to ensure they are protected and up to date with their vaccinations.

Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: “It’s tremendous news that we are on track to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 in this country. But alongside the success of the HPV vaccine for both boys and girls, regular cervical screenings for women are still essential to stop the development of cancerous cells in their tracks.

“A third of women do not take up the offer of cervical screening when invited, which is still a big risk for our plans.

“Cervical cancer often causes no symptoms during the early stages of the disease, so it is especially important that people attend their tests when in invited by the NHS and that those who are eligible get vaccinated against HPV.”

Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, Dr Julie Sharp, added: “We support NHS England’s target and pledge to save even more lives from cervical cancer. Combined with screening, HPV vaccination could reduce cervical cancer to the point where almost no one develops it.

“To ensure everyone has equal access to these life-saving programmes, there must be targeted action to increase HPV vaccination coverage and reduce barriers to cervical screening.

“This ambition will only be possible if the vaccination and screening programmes are backed by sufficient resource and modern IT infrastructure.”

Martin Hunt, CEO of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “We’re really pleased that NHS England is pledging to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040.

“The HPV vaccination programme is incredibly successful and has already led to an 87 per cent decrease in cervical cancer incidence in women in their 20s.”

He added: “It’s fantastic to see renewed efforts to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to receive the jab and reduce their risk of cervical cancer. By improving the uptake of both cervical screening and HPV vaccines, we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past.”

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‘Groundbreaking’ endometriosis study identifies patient priorities

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A “groundbreaking” study into endometriosis has identified three areas for future research that can help improve the outcomes for women with the condition.

The study, commissioned by Endometriosis New Zealand, attracted 1,262 participants, including 1,024 people with confirmed endometriosis, making it the largest ever study involving endometriosis patients and supporters in New Zealand.

Study participants identified the management and treatment of endometriosis, the need for a better understanding of its cause and improvements to diagnostic capability as the three main priorities for further research.

While these findings provide a clear pathway for future work, Endometriosis New Zealand chief executive, Tanya Cooke, said endometriosis research had historically been underfunded.

“With an estimated 120,000 New Zealanders living with endometriosis, much more needs to be invested into finding solutions,” Cooke explained.

“The reality is the outcomes for many endometriosis patients are pretty poor, with diagnosis often taking many years and treatment patchy across the country.”

Estimates based on Australian data suggest that endometriosis is likely to be costing New Zealand somewhere in the range of $1.3-1.5bn annually through increased healthcare costs and lost workforce productivity.

Cooke said: “The good news is that our findings align closely with those in Australia and provide three clear priorities for future research – improved treatment options, causation and better diagnostic capability.

“What New Zealand now requires is proper funding for a future research programme that can investigate these priorities more closely and improve the outcomes for individuals living with endometriosis.”

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Virtual care platform secures US$46m to address US maternal health crisis

Pomelo Care will use the funding to scale its care model and improve maternal and infant outcomes

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Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care

The US virtual maternity care platform Pomelo Care has secured US$46m in funding to address the US maternal health crisis.

One in 10 babies born in the US today start their life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Healthcare access continues to worsen, with one in eight births occurring in US counties with limited-to-no access to maternal care. Due to significant gaps in postpartum care, about half of pregnancy-related deaths in the US occur after hospital discharge.

The evidence exists for how to identify people at highest risk for complications and which interventions are most effective, but existing data gaps and provider capacity challenges make it difficult to apply these interventions at scale.

Pomelo has developed a care model that aims to address these challenges by analysing claims and health record data to identify individual risk factors and providing virtual pregnancy, postpartum, and infant care to patients to reduce those risks.

“We’ve long known what works to reduce maternal and infant complications,” said Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care.

“The questions have always been: can you identify the patients who are at highest risk, can you deeply engage them in care to drive uptake of the prevention strategies we know work, and can you do it in the highest risk populations with the most limited access to care?”

“This data demonstrates that we absolutely can. And with this additional funding, we’ll have the opportunity to scale our care model to more pregnant people across the country.”

The funding, led by existing investors First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) Bio + Health, is hoped to help Pomelo accelerate its partnerships with payors across the US and increase access to “evidence-based” care.

Josh Kopelman, partner at First Round Capital and Pomelo board member, said: “It’s rare to come across an opportunity where the incentives between patient, provider and payor are all aligned.

“Marta and the Pomelo team have found an incredible opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes for the highest risk populations, while helping payors reduce their avoidable costs.”

Vineeta Agarwala, general partner at a16z Bio + Health and Pomelo board member, added: “Pomelo is one among a small set of health tech companies that have earned true scale.

“This scale is evident in our partnerships with major Medicaid and commercial plans covering over three million lives, which create the opportunity to collaborate with OB providers, labour and delivery wards, and NICUs nationwide, while serving hundreds of thousands of expecting mothers and newborns with high quality, technology-enabled care.”

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One in three UK fertility patients seek treatment abroad due to high costs

Expensive fertility treatments prompt UK patients to seek help abroad

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One in three fertility patients in the UK seek treatment abroad due to high costs, a new survey has shown.

Fertility Family has gathered insights from 429 UK participants who have experienced difficulties with infertility.

The Infertility Awareness Report found that the high cost of fertility treatment in the UK has driven over one in four people to spend over £10,000 on both treatments and investigative procedures.

The research showed around 35 per cent of people struggling with infertility have considered seeking fertility treatment abroad due to the prospect of lower costs.

Of those seeking fertility treatment in a foreign country, however, only 14 per cent believed that clinics abroad have a higher success rate.

Of those actively trying to conceive almost one in five have used their life savings in the pursuit of having a child, whilst 25 per cent have paid for their fertility treatments using a credit card.

Dr Gill Lockwood, consultant at Fertility Family, said: “While we tend to cast our gaze on women when it comes to infertility, case studies have shown that infertility can impact both women and men in similar ways. However, women have been observed to seek help more than men.

“Although the psychological struggles of infertility can be overwhelming, many patients ultimately reach some type of resolution. Some of the alternatives include becoming parents to a relative’s children, adopting children, or deciding to adopt a child-free lifestyle.

“Needless to say, this resolution is usually psychologically demanding, and patients may feel forever impacted by the experience of infertility.”

A combination of fertility struggles and accessible healthcare have impacted people across the UK significantly, with one in two admitting to feeling “ashamed” due to their difficulties trying to conceive.

A further 31 per cent reported feeling that other people think “less” of them due to their fertility struggles, showcasing the need for better mental health support.

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