iPLATO, a Huma Company, today announced that it has been awarded a £1.7m research contract by Small Business Research Institute (SBRI) Healthcare, to improve the uptake of bowel cancer screening across South East London. The programme will address health inequalities by focusing on groups known to be less engaged with screening, forming a blueprint for potential national adoption.
The NHS distributes free Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kits to people aged 60 to 74 in England who are registered with a GP practice. Age eligibility is currently being lowered to include people from 50. The kit detects small amounts of blood in poo that is not visible but may signal the presence of polyps or bowel cancer. Pre-Covid, the return rate of FIT kits was 56% in South East London against a national target of 75%. Some groups have persistently lower uptake than the rest of the population; these include non-white people, those for whom English isn’t their first language, people with a severe mental health condition, and those with learning disabilities.
SBRI Healthcare supports the development of innovations which meet known NHS challenges. Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer, costing the UK £1.74 billion annually. The programme will be delivered in partnership with the South East London Cancer Alliance (SELCA) and local community leaders, academics and primary care professionals to establish the optimal communication channels and content to engage these ‘hard-to-reach’ groups using iPLATO’s platform which will provide tailored education through mobile messaging, ensuring scalability and privacy.
Tobias Alpsten, Founder and CEO of iPLATO said:
“Digital technologies hold great promise for making cancer screening and care accessible to everyone, and to reduce health inequities they must be developed in collaboration with the people they serve. This ground-breaking initiative will deliver better access to bowel cancer identification and preventative care measures for many vulnerable patients.”
Pastor Modupe Afolabi, Executive Director, Redeemed Christian Church of God, said: “I welcome this important programme which I strongly believe is the start of an important health initiative within our community.”
Representing SELCA, Professor Arnie Purushotham, Director of King’s Health Partners Cancer Centre at King’s College London and Consultant Surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I believe this innovative collaboration with iPLATO will meaningfully benefit these four patient groups. We know that early identification of cancer has the greatest impact on cancer survival”.
Huma’s cancer lead and oncologist, Dr Simon Chowdhury, said:
“Screening is a vital public health strategy for the early identification of cancers because it enables more timely access to treatment which can improve clinical outcomes and survival. We could not have put together a project of this scale aimed at benefiting hard-to-reach groups without the partnership of SELCA and lay partners, and we believe this work will be relevant in other parts of the country and for other screening programmes.”
Disclaimer: This work was commissioned and funded by the NHS Cancer Programme, with the support of SBRI Healthcare and the NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative. The views expressed in the publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS Cancer Programme or its stakeholders.